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Tempting the Fates

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The Athena Parthenos radiated an immense warmth as it reflected the sunlight from overhead. Even the child of the Underworld had to take a moment to appreciate the treasure Annabeth unearthed. Overhead, both Greek and Roman campers flitted across the Argo II readying the ship to carry such a massive monument. It would take most of the room they had to spare and yet even Nico had to feel just a moment of hope. The spectacle of the lost treasure shone all the brighter, warring against the caliginousness below.

For once, it seemed, the gods were on their side.

And then it happened.

Not in slow motion like in moving pictures Nico had seen. There was nothing so artistic or dramatic about it- just dreadful. Piper shouted, Percy froze and Annabeth (looking ashen and pallid) stared at her swollen ankle in bewilderment. Confusion was not something often seen pinching the daughter of Wisdom's features. Gossamer was threaded through her hair, stuck to her clothes, swathed her like a blanket. But it was the grip it kept to her ankle that threw her off balance; she managed to catch herself just seconds before her nose would have met what was left of the hard floor. Those silk strands, impossibly strong, had caught around Percy as well when he'd run to her. His leg, also tangled in the length of thread, tugged just moments later.

"Percy!" Annabeth shrieked and even as he was pulled, tangled in the web as well, he still threw his arm out reaching for her. Their hands met and her feet went over the side, floor crumbling further that much less of a barrier between herself and the consuming darkness.

Nico was frozen in time once again. The seconds passed by without meaning, just as they had in the Lotus Hotel. But this time, Nico understood what effect it was having. Life surged back into his limbs and he began moving with impossible speed. But time was equally as impossible as Percy slid over the side, too.

"I've got you!" And even as the missing hero clasped into her tightly, his green eyes turbulent as a hurricane, locked onto ghee younger boy. "Nico! Annabeth... Do something?! Please!" He pleaded.

With his heart hammering its way up into his throat, the Italian was afraid to attempt swallowing from fear of choking. No time. No time to get distracted because there was only one place that the darkness could lead and the abyss was about to swallow both campers with the others on the Argo II looking on in horror. Nico couldn't let that happen. It was a split second choice. Less than a second, even. The choice was instantaneous- an immediate reaction as his heart dominated over his mind and commanded his body to take action. He could feel the weak ground giving below him but he ran feet pounding the fragile platform.

Anything.

He would do anything to replace the turmoil in the sea prince's eyes. He couldn't live with himself if he didn't try something to help his friends. Freeing his Stygian sword from where it rest at his side, Nico disappeared in a sliver of shadow and, still moving at full speed, emerged from his shadow travel for the first time in his life without solid ground beneath his feet. It was a crazy risk- possibly one of he most stupid things the child of he Underworld had ever done- but it wasn't without fear. His stomach clenched painfully and his heart was like a hummingbird- beating a million miles a second and traveling in whatever direction it felt like.

There had been only a fraction of a second nit even to decide but to react and Nico just hoped it wasn't anything he would regret. With just a moment of weightlessness before the feeling free fall, Nico's fingers grabbed onto Annabeth's wrist. It was a combination of newly found strength in the face of danger and steely nerves that he managed to both grip and hold. With a flick of his other hand, Nico attempted to free her from the weight of Arachnae as the monster disappeared, consumed by the blackness below. It was dangerous, Nico couldn't even guarantee it would work, but closing his eyes he managed, by the mercy of his father or the fates, to swing the both of them the slightest of bits and disappear into the familiar shadows.

Their feet hit he deck of he Argo II as if they were falling out of his shadow travel. Nico took a second to catch himself, doing so with more grace than Annabeth and her diminished ankle causing her to fall to the deck.

Steely grey eyes bore into his black ones, glaring up at him. "You have to save him. I can't lose him again. Not when I just got him back," but Nico didn't hear the accusation in her tone. Really, he could use his own imagination to fill in the blanks- he'd been helping this whole time and yet he'd known exactly where Percy was for the duration he'd been missing. There would not be impunity or grace in those eyes. Nico couldn't bare to look at the girl he had just saved- not until he saved the boy still clutching to a similar fate.

He was already gone. Winded from the precision of traveling such a specific distance, Nico disappeared again, not allowing himself a moment to compose himself not matter how necessary that moment might have been.

His gut roiled with the choice he had made.

Let it be the right one. Please, let it be he right on, he prayed silently to anyone of the gods who might be merciful enough to listen and take pity.

Percy was gripping a ledge just a few inches longer than his fingers. Nico, in much the same free falling pattern, reappeared from the shadows and scrabbled to grip the ledge Percy was also clinging to. He could hear Hazel closing in, shouting for Percy not realizing that her half-brother now clung to he thing ledge right beside him. Fora. Child of death, it was impossible not to take in the life that's as next to him- Percy reeked of it in the most comforting and consuming of ways. Green/blue eyes, turbulent as the sea, met Nico's dark irises. Fear radiated from him in waves, a sort of dreaded warmth lapping at the Italian. Percy didn't need to do anything more than glance down quickly and Nico's eyes darted, following right behind.

Percy was far more tangled in the webs than Nico had realized. Freeing Annabeth hadn't done anything towards helping Percy- from his close proximity to Annabeth and walking around, the sea prince hadn't realized that he had become tangled in separate threads of the web and the tautness of the gossamer cables combined with the way Percy scrabbled to hold told Nico all that he needed to know. Arachnae was on the other end of the line and like a creature too large for fishing-reel, she was hellbent on dragging her would be capture down to depths even her capture could not survive. She was reeling the older boy in and his fingers were slipping. Even with the digits fatiguing, Percy still managed a gracious smile.

Their faces we're only inches apart and yet the Ghost King felt the dismissal of fear as Percy's mind came to understand she was no longer in danger."You saved Annabeth." The relief in his voice shook Nico.

Nico could only swallow and nod. "I came back for you."

Hazel appeared over the side just as Nico raised his Stygian sword once more. Though he had grown stronger every day, he had not been in the best of conditions after his capture and his own single handed grip was beginning to fail.

"What are you doing down there?! Get your butt back up here!" She screamed at her brother. "And bring him with you! The floor is giving."

Nico couldn't help but to join Percy in laughing as they were scolded like children. Hazel must have recognized how absolutely off-kilter she sounded because even she let out a nervous titter.

Try as she may, even stretching as far as she could, Hazel could not reach either of the boys. The small ledge was just too far out of her grasp. Nico sliced at the impossibly strong threads even as Percy yelled for him to go. Nico ignored him but as he moved a voice boomed from the darkness blacking out any conscious thought.

YOU COME TOO CLOSE AGAIN, HALF BLOOD. YOUR FRIENDS SAVED YOU THEN BUT THEY WILL NOT SAVE YOU NOW. AND THE BOY... YOU WILL NOT SAVE HIM EITHER.

Dread bubbled up inside him, the evil weighing on his mind like ink spilled over a paper, Nico absorbed all of it. His mind, still fragile and in the cusp, broke and his sword slipped from his grasp, a million times heavier than before. Tartarus was reaching for him once more, pulling him back to the horror he had only just escaped. The dark gravity had him in its grip once more and this time it would not let him go.

The ground trembled, even Nico could feel it. They only had seconds.

His eyes, wide with regret, met Percy's in a silent apology. He had failed him. He could not free him from Arachnae's web.

Breathing in deep through his nose, Nico exhaled through his mouth trying to calm himself.

"Hazel! Meet us... On the other side. I'll find it this time, I know I will! Meet us there. You have to lead them!"

Percy's eyes fixed on Nico's in confusion.

"We're staying together. I'll bring you back to her."

Understanding flooded the son of the sea god and his smile broke Nico's heart all the while mending something inside of him. Nico pushed terror aside and clung to that feeling- Percy took hold of Nico's hand and they fell.

Hazel's scream faded; as the two sons of the Big Three fell into eternal night, the son if darkness admired the fading light. Percy clung to him tightly, the grip of their hands never breaking.

"Thank your for saving her," Percy whispered.

Nico was glad the lightlessness secreted the regret on his face, a lone tear rolling down his cheek. He swallowed his sorrow and lied, "It's okay."

Percy's grip tightened on Nico's. "We'll make it to the Doors together. We'll see the others again. We'll see her."

"I know."

Nico made a promise in his heart that Percy would, even if he had to be lost to Tartarus to make it so.


AN: That's it! I really hope you enjoyed the beginning. Let me know what you think. I'll try and update again soon. Not sure if I'll try different perspectives every chapter or just follow Nico & Percy. Probably the latter but I'm happy to hear what you all think!

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I still don't own PJOO.

AN: I didn't think that I would be updating again quite so soon but it seems like this little light of an idea has just stuck with me. So I got home and while unwinding this next chapter was born. Sorry for any mistakes, I only gave it the most cursory look over. Trying not to edit too much while I write so I don't get writers block! Anyway, thank you for those who favorited or followed the story. And big thanks for those who took the time to review. It's really motivating to hear that someone else enjoyed it. So here's to you!


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Two

Descent

Engulfed in darkness, time did not stop. It did not stop, but it was different. There was a feeling in falling as hot air rushed passed their bodies and it was one that Nico had felt before. When he had been captive in a cage, an animal on display for monsters left isolated and fading. It was a feeling in the way his heart beat. Nico could feel it— it was beating— but it responded to the impossible gravity of Tartarus. It seeped into lungs and wiggled around organs, tightening around the muscle slowly. So time didn't stop, but it felt different in the way it touched his insides ageing them, and the way it fogged his mind.

Tar filled his lungs, the impossible blackness leaving less room for air. It choked and squeezed leaving the boy with shallow breaths. Maybe he was hyperventilating. Maybe he was simply on his way to it, but Nico couldn't let himself succumb. Because what his heart wanted to do— besides break— was hammer. Suffuse the trepidation from his heart to his nerves to his brain until every muscle was frozen because what he was doing— what he had willing done— was return to the place he'd only just been saved from.

Tartarus.

With Percy Jackson, somewhere inside him whispered.

Without realising it, his fingers tightened their grasp on Percy's. The older boy hadn't let go since they had begun falling. It wasn't until he felt the action returned with a reassuring squeeze that Nico attempted to turn towards the other and look at him. It was too dark to see anything more than a shadow and while the son of the Underworld normally would have found comfort in the secrecy, he found only unease. Nico would have given anything to see Percy.

"We're going to be okay," Percy answered like responding to a question. From the sound of his voice, Nico was certain that the boy had turned towards him as well, though he knew the son of the sea wouldn't be able to see him either. "They'll find us. Hazel will find the Doors of Death and…" there was a brief pause. "I'm sure you'll find them this time."

I'm sure you'll find them this time. Nico repeated the phrase in his head. It took on a kind of rhythm with his struggling heart. I'm sure you'll find them this time. Because he hadn't been successful from the other side. He hadn't succeeded. He'd gotten too close. He'd been captured. He'd been weak and helpless. He'd had to be rescued. It had to be Percy. Percy who he couldn't look straight at. Who he couldn't stop owing. Who was aloof and demure for reasons only too justified. Who he couldn't forgive but he couldn't forget. Who Nico had to save.

I'm sure you'll find them this time. And the salt in the wound? He'd had to buckle. He'd had to succumb. He'd had to go beyond losing and be found lacking. He'd had to rate the pomegranate seeds and loose just a little more of himself. Just a little more of his mind… maybe parts he couldn't live without.

Shaking his head, Nico tried to clear the aphotic thoughts.

I have a job to do. And with that reminder, he banished the mist from his head. Because time was different down here as they fell but there certainly wasn't more of it so he wouldn't waste precious seconds in self indulgence and upset. In his heart he made a promise and Nico knew of any promise he had ever made (though he didn't take them lightly), this would be the one he kept.

He responded to Percy's (perhaps unintended) challenge with "I will."

Another comforting squeeze to his hand and Nico felt just the tiniest of tensions melt away.

"I'm sorry," he whispered and even in the silence it fell flat like soldiers on a battle field. Eaten by the weight and the pull of the abyss below. They'd follow soon enough. "I'm sorry I couldn't get to you in time." Because if he'd been better, faster, less exhausted, more focused, not so susceptible maybe Percy would have stood a chance. Or maybe he shouldn't have listened to seaweed brain's plea and saved Annabeth first. But he had saved someone, even if that someone wouldn't forgive him for the time the two lovers had to spend apart. No matter Nico di Angelo's reasons— even if they were just following an understanding of above (and below) and the order of things to come— they were never good enough. "And for other things. I'm just sorry."

Whether his eyes had adjusted or not, Nico felt certain he could make out some difference in shades and caught sight of the boy next to him. Or at least parts of him. His eyes, by far his brightest feature. "Nico," he started but the older hero stopped. "She's safer up there than she is down here. We should be thankful of that, at least."

Nico puzzled over the words but didn't question further. Maybe he wouldn't want to understand anyway, and even if he did, the Italian didn't really feel like potentially inciting further questions of himself lest Percy question his motive altogether. Besides, Nico couldn't think of a single thing he had to be thankful for.

A wave of heat hit him and for just a moment, the younger demigod (or older, depending on a matter of perspective) swore for a second that their descent began to slow. After the initial resistance of the wall of heat, they continued tumbling down. At some point, he became mindful that the thread attached to Percy's ankle had become untangled. It was only gravity now bringing them down spinning faster and faster. "Is that… can you see that?"

"I can…" It was a glow, warm but not inviting. It did nothing for his vision as far as lighting the way or giving either boy the slightest about what lay below them. For he knew, they would hit the ground with such force that they'd both die instantaneously. Nico darkly wondered if there was any honour in such a death but even if there was, he felt sure that even the gods could not rescue them from so lowly a place.

Without even saying, "I don't think it will be long," Nico held to Percy's hand a little tighter.

Electricity surged through him when he heard faintly from his left, "Don't let go. Whatever you do, don't let go." Nico's eyes went wide as he searched for some semblance of sardonicism but he found none. Green eyes locked with black ones and Nico nodded. "I won't let you go," he answered. The verity of the phrase rang throughout his insides. Whether he wanted to or not, the child of Hades would not be letting the son of Poseidon go. Not any time soon. They were in this together now, falling towards impossible province with the whole of two camps— not to mention civilization— depending upon them. Them being two sons of the most powerful gods, neither of whom had taken much interest in either of the boys. Who had grown up in less than normal circumstances. One bright, celebrated, accepted wherever he went because he was brave and courageous; people would not hesitate in placing their faith with him. The other dark, inexalted, avoided and unwelcome; people distrusted him because he was between worlds and other. The son of Hades almost laughed to himself. There could not be a more opposite pair than the two accidentally joined in this quest. And yet, maybe they would make up for one another's downfalls.

It was beneath them all of a sudden. The dark cut only by the faint red glow of fissures or some kinds of veins in the surface. They cast a creepy glow on everything. Immediately beneath them, cutting through the harsh landscape, was a river. One thing that a child of the Underworld did know without a close up look was which rivers this was not: Lethe or Styx. Which left a few options— none of which were appealing— and one of which was the least so. Please let it be Acheron, because the principal river of Tartarus was only a river of woe and Nico di Angelo doubted he could fall any lower. If there was one thing he'd had a whole heck of a lot of servings of in his life, it was woe, and he could handle that pretty well.

"Brace yourself!" He shouted, realising only too late how silly that was. The son of Poseidon next to himself hardly had to brace himself. Nico on the other hand, who was hardly able to swim, was a different story. As soon as they struck the water their connection broke, hands ripped from one another. The moment of impact, he understood without question that his wish was unfounded. It was not Acheron and the fire that ignited across the whole of his body blacked his mind from thinking of anything. Every direction was fire. It coiled around him and dragged him under. Every direction ignited his nerves with all consuming pain and before long his lungs were burning, his heart faint. Where am I? Which way? He wondered but struggle as he may, his limbs were flailing but the river brought no peace. For all he knew, he might have been travelling down or sideways rather than up. Nico didn't dare open his eyes for fear that they, too, would catch fire and be consumed by the flames. Weren't you supposed to lose feeling at some point? The thought touched is mind but it was gone just as quickly. The only thing that broke through the fire was the thought that his lungs were burning but in a very different way— they were burning for air. And because he held it too long and the body has automatic reflexes, eventually it attempted to do the only thing that it could: suck in oxygen. Instead, he got a lungful of the fire water and the blaze ignited up his sinuses, down his throat, into his lungs. Spasms wracked his body.

There was so much pain, he didn't even feel the hand that took hold of his wrist and dragged him along. It wasn't until his head was above water long enough for him to wretch a few times, and there was land under his feet, that Nico understood what had happened. Percy, far from the ocean as it may be, was naturally blessed an amazing swimmer. Enough so that he was able to tow a less than compliant demigod along with him and drag them to shore. Nico wretched a few more times, the burning up his nostrils and behind his eyes, caused them to tear. It was less than graceful the way he hacked, unable to vomit anything up besides his own bile. The last time he had eaten had been a pomegranate seed and that was— well that was long out of his system. When he was finally able to stand up straight, he ran a hand over the back of his mouth.

Percy wheezed a few times trying to clear his own airways. His voice was hoarse like dried leaves underfoot. "What is that?"

"Phlegethon." Nico answered. "The stream of fire."

"So we're…"

"In the depths of Tartarus. Yes."

"Alright then. So basically, we're screwed."

"Very, very hard," Nico answered crassly.

Percy chuckled at his reply but there was little humour in his voice. Hunched over with both of his hands on his knees, he gave a nod. Dark hair hid his eyes from view.

"Let's find your sword and then it's one step at a time."

Nico pulled himself up from where he had unintentionally collapsed on the landscape. It was over one of the opaque veins pulsing red. Pushing himself up, he pulled his hand back as if it, too, had been burned but by the river running beside them but the ground itself. Something deep within the very being of the abyss rumbled. Percy was unflinching; only Nico felt it. He was waking up. Darting to his feet, Nico dared to finally take a look around at the landscape. His Stygian sword was no where to be found but the landscape was dotted with Italian cars. At least the areas around him. So whatever had fallen couldn't be far off.

"One step at a time." He repeated.

No. There wasn't anything ominous about that.


Chapter Text


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Three

Of Fire and Ice

Saying that it felt like they didn't have a hope in hell of finding a blade black as night in a place even darker than that was laughable. Nico didn't say so much as they trudged along the landscape, cautious of every stir or sound around them. His other senses made up for the limitation of sight as they combed across the uneven ground hoping to find his weapon. Percy had riptide in pen form but from nerves or uncomfortable silence he kept clicking the point in and out.

Sword.

Pen.

Sword.

Pen.

Sword. Pen. Sword. Pen. Sword Pen. Swordpen. Swordpenswordpensword.

The sound was going to drive the younger demigod mad before the oppressive dark had a chance.

Nico took a deep breath in and let it out his nose even more slowly but the clicking continued and his stomach churned like tides in a storm.

"What did you call it again?"

Percy turned just in time to witness the other boy stumble over the uneven ground in front of him, startled by the question.

What, you didn't think he was just going to walk in silence ignoring you the whole time? Nico scolded himself. He could feel the temperature in his face rise as he blushed furiously. Fortunately, Percy couldn't see.

"Phlegethon. The stream of fire."

Picking their way across debris from the cars crushed on impact in their fall, Nico noted the blue Fiat that had hit Arachne and kept his eyes open. The last thing he wanted was a sneak attack from a spider woman who would just as soon eat them both. Sadly, he could think of less pleasant ways to die, but that didn't mean within the first hour (was it an hour?) he was willing to subject either of them to that fate. Nico perked up as he saw something protruding from the landscape in front of them. It was lodged in the ground and seemed to quiver. Running forward, he wrapped his fingers around the blade and they immediately felt at home— reunited with an extension of his own arm. Tucking the blade back at his side he let out a sigh of relief. At least something in this godforsaken scenario was going right.

"Do you know that from…" Percy started but when he looked over, he could see the other boy stop. The gears in his head continued to turn but it seemed like despite the cogs moving, Percy had decided to halt all progress on that train of thought.

"Mythomagic?" He answered.

"You found your sword."

So that was exactly where Percy had been going. Just as much as he was sure that the game itself wasn't remotely offensive to Percy— no matter how lame the son of Poseidon may have deemed the game, he knew full well what it was. He also knew full well exactly how immersed the other demigod had been in it. Living in a world that was, at the time, so different from his own had been exciting. The game hadn't been black or white— good or bad. It progressed in shades of grey and, unknowing to the child who had fallen so in love with it, mirrored so much of his own life. A would be hero one day, a monster the next. Nico lived between the worlds and between characteristics. Even he didn't know where he would land. But the game… it wasn't the game that Percy was failing to mention.

"You can mention the game. That time of my life, it doesn't only make me think of Bianca. At least, not in the way you think it makes me." The sword at his side was a source of comfort. He held to it for no reason but kept it within his sheath. The boys fell into step together in silence.

"I'm sorry. I didn't meant to imply… I just didn't want to… you know. Drag things up or anything. I just figured sore subject. Sorry."

Rounding the blue Fiat, Nico was just about to reply but the words were stolen right from his mouth and the thoughts from his head. A shadow, impossible to make out against the dimness of the landscape, appeared in their path charging at them like a freight train and nearly just as massive. He pieced together just a few seconds too late exactly what it was.

"Where is she? Where is that smart ass daughter of Athena?" Arachne screamed not distinguishing between either of the gods. Fortunately in his obsessive clicking, Anaklusmos was fully extended and Percy raised the sword expertly seconds before the arachnid woman launched herself at them. Raising his sword high, Percy sliced upwards while throwing himself to the side so not to be crushed by the bulk of her weight.

Nico freed his Stygian blade from his side and brought it to bare as well.

"I will eat her! She tricked me… that conniving little… she tricked me!" Several choice words in Greek met their ears but even the rather inexperienced of the two was certain that the graphic suggestions made might not necessarily be physically possible with just one individual in the equation.

"She's safe, bug eye. Up top. That's right… Annabeth is up top and you're stuck down here. How long until you find your way out?" Percy taunted. Not the right choice of words as the arachnid launched herself at him once more. Another strike from riptide to her belly caused a shriek but she didn't disappear into dust or crumble away into nothing.

Percy had just royally pissed off a lady spider who was clearly having a pretty crap life and taunting was just the icing on the cake. Nico realised, only belatedly, that Percy had come to position himself between Nico and Arachne.

I can fight for myself, he thought. What is he doing?

Whether he was trying to be noble or he was just incredibly stupid, Nico knew that Percy was going to get himself killed. And besides… what was happening? Without so much as contact, Poseidon's son was beginning to turn a blistered red. Welts were raising up on his arms. Nico felt it then, the way time caught onto himself. He felt it in his heart and the way his lungs began to strain once more though all he did was stand still. Looking down, his fingers were bleeding. Where they had been gripping tight to the ledge, blood was now pooling, standing in stark contrast to his pale skin. But even the tan of his skin (unusually pallid from so much time in a void) was darkening, deepening a sickly crimson.

Something was happening and Percy, too distracted to notice it, was going to wind up getting himself killed the freaking seaweed brain.

You're hard enough to keep alive as it is! Stop throwing yourself in fait's way! For fuck's sake. Nico grumbled to himself. And in Tartarus, the birthplace of monsters, Nico could feel the silent call. Something in the air changed. They may be in Tartarus and Arachne, attempting to stab Percy with her poison imbibed barb, she was calling. Spiders. She was calling to her children, those who might live in the shadows in the depths.

Skin crawling from the thought, Nico knew he had to do something. Quick. Before Percy wound up a Percykabob and Nico wound up one very desolate demigod, hacked right off and lugubrious beyond measure.

Think. Come on, di Angelo, think.

After all, he knew lots of things. He knew the underworld. He knew mythology. And whatever anyone might think about how lame or nerdy mythomagic had been, it was his gateway to understanding mythology and much of their history. Nico knew the history of things others didn't. He understood how pieces fit together, many of which he had fit himself from his own learning and assumptions. And from those… from those he had an idea.

"Arachne!" Nico shouted.

She didn't pay him any mind, content to continue sparring and insulting the son of Poseidon. Like everyone else she paid no mind to the child of the Underworld.

"You're weaving is disgraceful! My mom owned one of your pieces. It untangled in a weak. It was the biggest waste of money and talk about the quality. I didn't even realised it was legal to sell something that poor. Coming apart at the seams. And don't even get me started on how ugly it was. It physically hurt me to look at it!"

Nico's shouts caught her attention.

"My weaving? MY WEAVING? HOW DARE YOU… YOU BRAT. THERE HAD NEVER BEEN QUALITY AS MY WEAVING! AND UGLY… YOU UNAPPRECIATIVE LITTLE… Every artist has their experimental phase!"

Her absorption in Jackson broken, Arachne took after the son of Hades threatening to show him exactly how expert her skills were.

"In fact, I will demonstrate! Come here and I will weave you a tapestry with threads so tight as to render you so snuggly inside you won't get even the faintest breath of air! I am such an expert in weaving I can make this so! Come here so I can show you! COME BACK!" Arachne shouted but Nico took off on foot and while he didn't have eight legs to help him make headway, he also didn't have as much weight to propel forward in the oddly dense gravity that was Tartarus. "Son of Hades, hah! All you know is darkness and death! What would you know of art?! You insolent child!"

What he was doing was more than likely suicide. After all, he was doing one of the dumbest things he could think of and it was only a guess. A guess to which direction he ran and what he expected to find there. When he had sighted the river running fast below them, he'd thought for an instance they would plunge into it but instead Phlegethon. Legs carrying him as fast as he could, the weight of Tartarus was pressing down upon him. Arms swinging out in front of him, he could see the skin bubbling and beginning to bleed as lesions formed. Inside of him his lungs felt like they were disintegrating and as swift as he might be Arachne was gaining. Up ahead. He could hear it. In the pit of his stomach he could feel it. The tug and the pull. Soon it was in his sight, though it was swimming with spots. Even the spots in his vision were brighter than the murky atmosphere he was cutting through.

"Arachne… no, no one speaks of Arachne. Not even in relation to Athena. No one remembers your weaving… so terrible… not even worth remembering how bad it was! Awful!"

Nico wheezed out but his breath was like liquid. It was then he realised he was coughing up blood. But it was so close and he could feel the monster behind him. The Ghost King kept running until there was no ground beneath his feet and Arachne in all her fury blinded by rage followed right after. She was on him as they fell, tumbling towards the water below them.

"I think I hate you even more than that infernal child of Athena!" Arachne shrieked.

Tumbling down, he threw one look back up over the edge and saw Percy chasing after them.

Stop, you stupid boy. You'll go over the edge.

He wasn't sure if he shouted it or thought it but given when he coughed he gurgled blood, Nico felt maybe it was the latter. As they crashed into the water, his body immediately went rigid. The hyperborean water stabbed at his already weakened body like a knife. But it wasn't the force, the frigid temperature, or the weight of Arachne sinking him further that got to him. It was the wailing. Slipping past them the souls pawed at Nico and Arachne and every single thought was in their heads. Cocytus. The river of wailing. The frozen river that flowed into Acheron. Home to traitors and frauds. They screamed in a way that Nico didn't have to hear but could feel. It ripped at his insides, to his very core. Their thoughts were his thoughts, their woes his woes. And with little effort their tragedy gripped down deep inside of him and pulled every indiscretion, every clandestine thought to the surface.

What's the point? You're sick. Something's wrong with you… your mother didn't bring you up this way. Your father wouldn't want you. He doesn't want you friends… what friends? No one trusts you. They don't notice when you're gone and when you're there… you're a burden. A vexation. If they lost you in Tartarus, no one would mind. No one will be waiting for you on the other sides of the doors. They'll be waiting for Percy Jackson. So what's the point in going on? Let the river take you.

Arachne's weight left his body. Vaguely, he was aware of her thrashing and screaming as the souls in the river of ice latched onto her. After all, it was the home of traitors. Of frauds. And wasn't Arachne a fraud, pretending to be better than the gods? Even if she had gotten a crap deal in life.

Fraud? Who's the fraud, Nico? Hiding in the shadows, envying, begrudging. Who's the fraud? No one knows you… and even if they wanted to know you (they don't), they wouldn't after you told them. You're sick. The way that you feel… it isn't normal. Normal people don't feel that way. The gods don't want you, demigods don't know what to do with you. You're neither living or dead. Where do you fit, Nico? Where could you ever possibly fit? You're a fraud and your thoughts betray you. Don't struggle.

Nico's lungs filled with the arctic water and then everything went dark.


Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Four 

Traitors and Frauds

 

"Nico. Nico…"

What?

"I have it."

Have what?

"I have what you want. Don't deny it. You know that I do."

Annabeth? W-what… what do you mean.

"Don't play dumb, you're not a child anymore. You're a demigod. A son of one of the Big Three. It's time to start acting like one."

I don't know what you're talking about. Annabeth…

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. I have it. Everything that you've ever wanted. I have it and you covet it. I could give it to you… for a time. But I won't."

Listen, whatever you think you know… you don't. I don't want anything.

"You want everything. You always have. You'd take it from me if you could."

I wouldn't take anything from anyone.

"I told you to stop playing dumb! It's not cute, Nico. You're not some adorable little boy now. Wide eyed, naive and unknowing. You're a son of Hades but for all your skulking about, I never pegged you for a coward. You know exactly what I mean! And that's why you're here, Nico. That's why you're not fighting. You know that you belong here."

Annabeth…

"In the currents of the river. Just like all the other misbegotten souls. You're an imposter. Pretending to be something that you're not. Hanging around, watching, waiting, always a voyeur. Pretending to be part of a life you'll never have, pretending to be someone you're not, pretending to feel things you don't, and pretending you don't feel this you'll never stop. So you'll freeze in this current and you won't try to stop yourself. Admit it, you want it. Everything that I have."

I don't want anything! H-how could I? I never get to keep anything anyway…

"That's right, you don't. Never had a father. Couldn't keep your mother. Practically killed your sister. Mrs. O'leary left you. And Hazel… she'll leave you eventually, too. But that doesn't mean that you don't want, Nico. You want more than anyone else. It's untoward how much you want… and what you want. Well that's another matter, Nico. What you want…"

Annabeth, you… you don't understand. I d-don't know what you're thinking but you're mistaken…

"What you want, Nico, is an abomination. It's profane, Nico, these thoughts that you have. Don't pretend… I told you not to pretend! These thoughts, what you think when no one's around. What you think when you can't help but thinking, what you want. It's loathsome and you know… you know that if you said it, you'd loose what little you have. Your supposed friends… they wouldn't want you either. Now your friends… you're cheating them all, Nico. How much could you really care about them playing with their heads like you do? Pretending to be something you're not? A fraud. The classic definition, Nico."

I'm not a fraud! I'm not… I haven't done anything. I've done nothing but try and help everyone. You don't understand, Annabeth… For months I've been trying to help.

"Help who? Help me?! Help Percy?! Or help yourself? Because that's all anyone thinks, Nico. That you've just been running around playing self important imagining you're part of something bigger than you are and tagging along for a prophecy you have nothing to do with. You've been messing with all of us, Nico, and we smile and we're nice to you but we don't buy it. No one trusts you, least of all him. Least of all me. We might tolerate you but we're too kind to turn you away and you know it. You've been allowed where you are because you're piteous. As soon as Hades learned who— what you were— he should have banished you. Sent you to the fields of punishment. So I guess this will have to do, you drowning in a river of ice. Dragged down by others just like you."

I'm sorry… Annabeth… I'm so, so sorry.

"You're a monster, you know that? A monster! You belong down there in Tartarus with the rest of them!"

I didn't mean to, Annabeth. Please, forgive me. I didn't mean to. You have to believe me, I never wanted to. I wouldn't… no one would choose this. I wish I could be something different.

"But you can't, Nico. You can't. You want everything I have. You took it from me. And that's why no one will cry when you're gone. You're a monster. I only wish it could have ended more horribly for you."

Please, Annabeth! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!


The tides of the Cocytus dragged Nico down, folding his body in on itself as somewhere in an unconscious part of his mind, he tried to preserve some semblance of warmth. It was pointless. Hopeless. Nothing mattered except… except maybe that he'd done at least one good thing. That's right, he'd led Arachne away and… yes, he could hear her. Hear her screaming and shouting and fighting but those sounds soon turned to wailing as the arctic pull of every miserable thing inside of her became the most real thing she'd ever experienced. Because misery… that's all that was real. Nico might have cried himself but he had cried enough over Bianca. So now it was over. He'd done his one good thing amongst so many terrible things and he would go. There was no point. At least Percy was safe… but he couldn't even do that right. Just a few hours into Tartarus and already he'd succumbed just like he had the first time. He'd succumb but now Percy was on his own and he would never find the Doors of Death. Tartarus would eat him alive and the world would fall and Nico… stupid Nico had made it all possible. He shouldn't have pretended to be something he wasn't, be stronger than he was. After all, he was just a shadow, not really a person, not really living or dead, and the thoughts in his mind were darker than most. He should have stayed lost in the first place. No one wanted him found.

The ice filled his lungs and carried him away.


"…di Angelo… Nico. Earth to Nico. C'mon, Nico. Breathe… c'mon breathe! Dammit, Nico! Just wake up!"

A punch to his chest had icy water ejecting from his lungs. Nico rolled onto his side, curled into a ball as he hacked and hacked and hacked. The water emptied but as it leaked from his mouth and his nose, it burned. Eyes closed, he let out a groan. The ground was trembling and it made his already sensitive stomach even more sick. Not for the first time since falling into the pit, he was sick. Bile and blood emptied onto the ground next to him.

When Nico opened his eyes he realised that the ground wasn't shaking but that he was trembling. His heart was a block of ice inside of his chest and it pumped frost to every inch of his body.

"Thank the gods! You're awake. I thought I almost lost you there for a second. Dude, what were you thinking? I mean, majorly amazing getting Arachne away from us like that but… what the hell? …Oh, sorry. I mean, what the heck?" Percy babbled a million miles a minute. It gave him verbal whiplash as he tried to wrap his foggy mind around even a single syllable that was leaving the other's mouth.

Blinking slowly, he pulled himself into an upright position and wrapped his arms around his legs, legs then pulled to his chest. The shivering just wouldn't subside. The Italian's normally semi-tanned skin was pale. Each vein stood out, blue bruises of traffic travelling across his skin.

"She wasn't dying. You stabbed her… but she wasn't… dying." Speaking was an effort and not just from the fluid in his lungs.

Tartarus was kiling him, maybe faster than Percy. Maybe not. Maybe the son of Poseidon found even the poisonous estuaries to be some relief from the noxious atmosphere of Tartarus but it was consuming the son of Hades.

"Cocytus… river of woe. Home of… traitors. Frauds… she'll fit in… nicely there. I mean… I'm sure she plagiarised… some of her designs." Wheezing the words, Nico coughed again and blood spattered the back of his hand.

Despite their situation, Percy chuckled quietly to himself. Nico doubted if the other demigod could distinguish whether or not he was trying to be funny but it was still encouraging that the other laughed.

"We're not going to make it, are we?" Percy turned deadly serious. It was only then that Nico realised the son of Poseidon's lips were blue and the burns on his face were starting to weep. He was trembling, much like Nico. The effects of the river were seeping to his core, though slower than Nico's. Maybe it took longer on the courageous than it did on the cowardly— chalk that up to a supposition Nico hadn't made. He was just learning a whole lot down in the pit.

"Percy, we have to get up," Nico wheezed. Despite the weight of his limbs and the swimming of his head, he pulled himself to his feet. Reaching out for Percy's hand, he pulled the older boy to his feet.

"Why? Why do we have to go anywhere? I mean…we're not going to make it Nico. Honestly. This whole thing… it was just a show for them, wasn't it? To make the other's feel better. So they could go on and fight Gaea?"

Shaking his head, wet strands of black hair clung to his face. Shoving them aside took more effort than it should have but both demigods were soon on their feet. Talking hurt. His throat was raw and the most he inhaled the worse it god. There was a metallic taste in the back of his throat.

"…have to… keep moving. Phlegethon… fire… it'll warm us. Woe… it's getting us. Please… just please, Percy…"

Every step the weight grew heavier. Percy's arm was around his shoulder but it wasn't clear who was holding the other up as they trudged along. The distance, great before, was now impossible. Across the landscape the trudged, tripping over veins and pockmarks. Stumbling a few times, Nico had to shout to get Percy up.

Focusing was impossible. The longer they walked the harder it was to breath and to think. It was distracting… the noise in the background… the thumping. The steady constant thrumming of something… it was a familiar sound. Nico just couldn't place it. Fighting every frigid thought he had, the Ghost King attempted to focus.

It was just a dream. It was a hallucination brought on by the Cocytus punishing him for a million and one things but it was his drive— his motivator. Annabeth— he would be worthy of forgiveness and he would get Percy to the Phlegethon. They would warm themselves and drink from the river of fire and if it didn't work… well, they'd both be dead and Nico wouldn't have to fight the demons any longer.

Percy stumbled again and wouldn't budge. "Per…" but his throat clogged and Nico coughed once more, blood burning his throat and exploding from his mouth. Something lodged in the back of his throat and coughing, he spit it up into his hand. It was… a chunk of something. A lung.

Holy shit.

The gravity of the situation hit Nico like a ton of bricks to the stomach. Reaching down, he grabbed at the other demigod but he just wouldn't move. The welts on his face were bleeding down. There were more on Percy's arms, his fingers, his legs and they were spreading. The skin was blistering and bubbling and melting away— in fact his own skin felt like it was wax, warm and sliding out of place.

Not daring to talk lest he cough up more of his insides, he gave the other a kick. But it did nothing. Percy moaned and lay where he was.

Come on… come on…

Every ounce of strength he had was used to hoist the other up onto his broadening shoulders and half carry half drag the other boy with him. It was only feet away. It was in sight. So near. He could hear it and feel the explosive warmth so different to the permafrost spreading throughout his body. At the edge of the water he dropped Percy and kneeling down himself took a handful of water and splashed it in Percy's face. Sputtering about, the other attempted to get away but he was also a mess. Nico managed another few handfuls dumping them over Percy.

Shoving his hand into the liquid fire once more he brought up a handful to his own lips and drank. It was disgusting as it lit down his throat and into his stomach. Molten hot and thick like blood, metallic and burning. Falling to his side, the trembling started again and all he could think was, I guess I was wrong. Such a simple last thought.

But the trembling subsided and Percy also stopped convulsing. Exhausted, they both lay their silently next to the Phlegethon trembling but staring at the other. He could feel his insides mending— it wasn't a pleasant sensation but it was necessary. Nico wouldn't refuse a gift, especially not one he didn't deserve.

"Nico…"

"Yeah?"

"That was absolutely foul."

"I know."

"You said her name. Annabeth's… while you were passed out."

"Oh." Nico stayed still feeling his face warm but this time from the flow of blood inside his veins coming to the surface on his cheeks— not from any effect of Tartarus, though he would deny it.

"Did you see something?"

Choosing that moment, he hoisted himself up on shaky elbows and broke the gaze. Dark irises fell away onto the glowing ember of a river flowing next to them.

"Every awful thing about me."

"Oh." It was Percy's turn to be slumped. Following the younger boy's lead, he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees before rising on unsteady feet. "We should make a plan. She would have a plan by now. A direction to take or a way to find it… she would know." The longing in his voice was painful.

Turning away, Nico with renewed purpose took in the bleak landscape. A plan. A direction. Something for them to journey towards to get them to where they were needed most. Something in the thick atmosphere of Tartarus stirred and Nico found himself enchanted by the pulsing once more. That sound… he could feel the gravity tugging towards the sound. Crouching down, the Ghost King's fingers gingerly set to the ground and a frown weighed down his lips. As his hair began to dry it fell across his eyes curtaining him from Percy's expectant gaze. There was something more… something they were missing here in Tartarus. Nico couldn't put his finger quite on it but he could feel the pull in his gut urging him…

"This way. The Doors of Death. I don't know how far but we have to go this way."

Skepticism clouded the son of Poseidon's green eyes but the distrust in his look was shrugged off.

Having nothing better in mind, he nodded and fell ins to step next to Nico.

"Thanks, again. For saving my life."

Nico kept his gaze forward not daring to chance a look to the boy who travelled next to him.

The silence that feel between them was nearly as thick as the corrosive air.


Chapter Text


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Five

Hanging On

Hazel

She could hardly believe that they had managed to find Annabeth just in time. There seemed to be a lot of that happening lately— everything just in the nick of time, not a second more to spare. All the same, Hazel was glad for the fact that Annabeth was alright and the Athena Parthenos was unharmed. As much as she loved her fellow Romans, she didn't place much faith in their ability to forgive and forget. And as hopeful as the members of Camp Halfblood were about their chances of survival, well, there was a reason that the Greeks fell and the Romans rose.

Clearing her thoughts, he watched as Leo and Jason with the help of Coach Hedge fashioned the relic to some last minute rigging and managed to hoist it up onto the ship. It all looked a bit dangerous to her but she just reminded herself that there were gifts on their side. Gifts more powerful than retrieving wealth from the earth.

But then Annabeth screamed and what had been cause for celebration— after all, they were ahead for once!— was cause for chase once more. Turning her head to the side, she opened her mouth to say her brother's name but she got no further than, "Ni…" and it died on her lips. The still recovering son of Hades was no longer beside her when she blinked.

Without even a second to think, Hazel sprinted forward her feet hitting the uneven and capricious ground. A yelp left her lips as her foot punctured the floor but fortunately she threw the other out and kept going forward without plummeting into the darkness below.

Oh gods. Oh gods. That could have been bad.

Hazel nearly skidded over the ledge but came to a stop just in time. Her eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets when she realised that not only was Annabeth no longer there but Nico was dangling besides Percy.

How in the name of the gods…

Annabeth's voice startled her from behind. Chancing a look over her shoulder, she was shocked to see the blonde girl on the deck now overseeing the Athena Parthenos being lifted. She was sat over the side shouting at Jason. Well, cross that off of the list of things to worry about.

Reigning in her ADHD, she managed to focus on the here and the now. The situation built up in the pit of her stomach as her eyes for a second time met the sight of the two boys on the ledge barely grasping. Before Hazel could ask or scream or shout or cry about what they were both doing and how dangerous it was, concern exploded past her lips in an irrational spray of ridiculousness. "What are you doing down there?! Get your butt back up here, Nico! And bring him with you! The floor is giving."

Without asking she knew. Somehow she knew that Nico had been the one to save Annabeth and that he'd disappeared form her side calling the shadows up around him like only the Ghost King could and he had shadow traveled, grabbed the female demigod, and landed back on the ship. Just when she thought she had her half brother figured out, he had to go and surprise her— Hazel never would have guessed he had the strength. Not while he was still recovering from the toll Tartarus had taken on him. Not that she thought that was the only toll he had paid; there were many.

There was a niggling in her stomach, the uncomfortable fluttering feeling. As much as Nico surprised her, she still worried about his strength. And whether or not he would be able to get the other demigod and himself back to safety.

But then it came. It came from the depths of the pit— the spite, the rage, the hate and resentment— venom spewing as the voice quaked in their heads.

YOU COME TOO CLOSE AGAIN, HALF BLOOD. YOUR FRIENDS SAVED YOU THEN BUT THEY WILL NOT SAVE YOU NOW. AND THE BOY... YOU WILL NOT SAVE HIM EITHER.

She had no experience, no context within which to place the voice but the way her vision blackened and her limbs quivered void of any strength, she knew. Tartarus. He was calling for her brother and in the last bit of sight, her vision swimming, she saw his Stygian blade fall from his fingertips and the fear on his face.

No. No. No no no nononono.

Hazel just barely managed to keep herself from tumbling headfirst into the pit as well. The voice left them and though it was gone, she struggled to push herself back up.

Nico's eyes, dark as ink, met hers. The circles under his eyes stood out purple on ashen skin.

"Hazel! Meet us... On the other side. I'll find it this time, I know I will! Meet us there. You have to lead them!"

"I will!"

And then they were gone. They disappeared into the black and a scream tore from her lips. She threw herself up onto her feet and with the floor quaking and pieces falling away, she took off for the Argo II and hopped on board just in time for take off.

Annabeth's slate eyes locked onto Hazel. It was only then she realised that she was crying, her vision wobbling and watery, not quite focused. Tears streamed down her face as she shook her head. "T-they… they didn't make it."

"What do you mean they didn't make it!? Hazel… where are they! Where's Percy?!" Annabeth strode forward under she was nose to nose with the daughter of Pluto, malice dripping from her voice.

"They fell. I couldn't reach them and N-nico… he couldn't travel. Tartarus… Tartarus took them, I could feel him and N-nico… he wasn't strong enough. They fell! They fell, Annabeth! Oh gods, they fucking fell!"

She lost it then, screaming as they took off. Pointless, wordless shouts. Frank soon engulfed her in his arms and spun her around, pressing her face not his chest. Hazel kept screaming but the sound eventually died.

Somewhere behind her, Annabeth came undone. The sobs and the shouts and the shuffling.

"No! No no no! He can't be gone… he can't be fucking gone. No… no don't you dare… don't touch me! I have to go back for him… I said don't fucking touch me! Get off me… you'll be sorry. Get your fucking hands off me!"

Someone had to hold her back— probably Jason— for her own good. And probably for Hazel's protection lest Annabeth come completely undone and lash out at the last one to see either of the two boys on this plane.

The filth that left her mouth in English and in Greece would have shocked a sailor, so creative in its colour. Annabeth cursed them all, especially Hazel. Especially Nico. And Hazel cried quietly against Frank who stroked her hair murmuring for her not to mind. Nico surely did all that he could. After all, he'd saved Annabeth and maybe she couldn't see that right now but… and the words continued. They flew away in the air like balloons on a breeze. She was in no place to concentrate.

Annabeth must have been brought below deck (surely Jason had, in the most delicate of ways, manipulated a pressure point to knock the girl out) because the air stilled and in the quiet she heard… "what's next?"

Lifting a hand to wipe at her eyes, she pulled back away from Frank and stood up straight.

"We meet them at the Doors of Death. I promised him that we would meet them, and I plan on keeping my word."

The daughter of Pluto had no idea how they were going to succeed in their quest— how they would get the saved relic to Halfblood Hill on time or how they would find Percy or Nico— but she did know that they would.

After all, the impossible could happen. She'd been dead for countless years and yet here she was, alive. Miracles could happen even if you didn't believe. But she had to believe in this one because she had to believe that in a world where one boy had survived so much bad, he'd survive long enough to know there was also good. And that hadn't happened for Nico yet.

Turning to the railing, she leaned over the edge, forgetting her propensity for motion sickness. "We're coming, Nico," she whispered. "Just hang in there."


Chapter Text

Now he wasn't saying that he had been having the best day ever— he certainly hadn't.

In fact, he'd be a little hesitant to say what the best day ever thus far in his life had been but the 3rd of June hadn't exactly been the worst day of his life.

Monsters? Check.

Friends? Check.

Quest? That, too.

Rescuing Annabeth from some vindictive spider woman with a grudge against her mother? Check and check.

Saving a however thousand year old relic that could reconcile two long-feuding camps and aid in saving the world? Checkity check check check.

In his opinion, that was a lot of points that put it in the 'definitely not the worst day category' and maybe even started to qualify it for consideration for 'good'— not best, but good.

At least, until things all blew up in their faces. This was a serious setback for himself, just as it was for any demigod Greek or Roman by birth. Too many ticks in the 'moderate to okay'— or, gods' forgive, 'good'— column usually resulted in some severe karmic reversal. Not that he had been super hopeful, but there had been some element of optimism that maybe, just maybe, the eight demigods and their satyr would skate by unnoticed.

Fat chance.

Falling into Tartarus?

Major, serious, definitively conclusive check in the AwfulTerribleWorstDayEver column.

If there could be any possible redeeming thing to the whole situation— after they had fallen into the worst place above or below earth, plunged into a river of liquid fire and gasoline, nearly been eaten by the same spider lady who he was happily taking all his frustrations out on, retrieved the son of Hades from the most dispiriting body of water he'd ever manipulated (he was still unfurling the tendrils), choked down more of the gasoline water, and now was heading down into Tartarus— it was that Annabeth was safe.

Thank the gods for that. It was only something small but it was also everything. She's safe, he reminded himself. As thankful as he was, it didn't enliven the bleak landscape or lift his spirits like he'd hoped. Still, he kept repeating it to himself.

All things considered? Percy was having a pretty bad day. Honestly, few things could make it worse.

And then his stomach rumbled.

Cheeseburger. It cried.

Shut up. He answered.

With fries. Cheese fries. Large cheese fries, definitely. Ooh, or chill cheese fries.

Another impossibly loud protest from his stomach. It felt like it was trying to consume itself and he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten but it was probably a few days.

The shadow of a companion beside him was silent.

Can he hear my stomach?

It made for little distraction from the never ending gloom surrounding them. Only minutes before they had happened upon a cliff face. The Phlegethon, to their right, cascaded down below. Both had scouted around looking for the easiest way down but it appeared that in this particular section of Tartarus they would have to cling on like a couple of mountain goats and hope they didn't painfully fall to jagged rocks before or, their other option, painfully fall to jagged rocks surrounded by fire water.

And he was starving.

Strike that. Percy Jackson was having the worst day ever.

Once both boys conceded that there wasn't going to be an easier way down, Nico took the lead as he carefully picked his way slinking down, finding barely visible paths and foot or hand holds. The movements were incredibly feline or maybe that's just how he manipulated the shadows so well, moving like liquid steal, stealthy and soundless. Percy followed after none so graceful on the landscape, frequently disturbing little bits of the ground as he went. They in turn fell down and dusted Nico on the head. More than once those dark eyes glared upwards at Percy and he gave a wave and a sheepish grin.

Jeez.

"I'd kill for a stuffed crust pizza." Percy grumbled, fingers finding a holding only half their own size. Even as his stomach was complaining, his muscles might have protested if not for the strange water they kept drinking. It tasted like charred flesh but it left him feeling better than he thought possible in such a pit. "A giant stuffed crust pizza with extra pepperoni and blue m&ms. I know it's weird… but honestly, it's so good. You'd like it."

"Stuffed what crust pizza?"

Ascending.

"Oh yeah. Italian. Real pizza. Well, you might still like it," Percy mumbled talking more to the cliff face as his words dropped off. Now if he could just say the right thing rather than continuously stepping in it with Nico then maybe the younger demigod would say more than five words to him and hold his gaze for more than ten seconds before looking away.

Bianca was a long time ago. Surely, he can't still be upset about that. And it's not like I don't have plenty to be upset with him over and I'm trying to do my best and let it go.

"I'm not really hungry," Nico offered up from below.

Blinking in surprise, Percy cast his gaze downward at the other, daring to look. Honestly, he didn't really like heights so he'd been keeping to a steady gaze just where he was going (now depths, that was another story. Loved him some depths. Get him far below sea level and that was all peachy), but green orbs chanced a look down and caught Nico looking up at him.

Gods, he doesn't even look like he's trying. His muscles don't even look a little tired.

"Really?" Percy's stomach took that very moment to let out another wail of disapproval. "My stomach is about ready— no strike that— i'm pretty sure it's in the process of eating my spleen or something. You can live without a spleen, right?"

"Uhm… not too sure, actually. Probably?" After a few seconds curses in Greek floated up to his ears.

"You okay, Nic?"

"Yeah, no big deal. Just scuffed myself up a little. Not too much further."

Thank the gods for that, he exhaled. While the molten liquid they were sipping as infrequently as possible was doing its part towards keeping them from burning to dust in the corrosive atmosphere, it didn't take any steps towards sating his hunger. And the effects weren't really long lasting.

"How'd you know? About the river, I mean. The phlegm-a-ton?"

"Phlegethon?" The other corrected.

If it weren't for the already boiling air and the strain of climbing down in gravity amplified, Percy's cheeks might have flushed. It was only thing for Annabeth to correct him, he expected that, but he forgot that the other demigod, though younger, might have been more clever than he gave him credit. Coughing, he sputtered out a, "yeah."

"It was really just a guess. Glad that I was right. I mean, it's Tartarus. They don't have anything here like ambrosia or nectar but they do have this. The river of fire, boiling blood. You hear rumours in the Underworld about the different sections. These rivers flow for countless miles but there are stories about boiling blood the punishment for people who murdered their fellow men." There was a pause and Percy realised that Nico had finally found his footing on the ground. Just a few feet above meant that he was nearly to the floor— no more cliff climbing! "Those men… they'd want to punish them forever. So they have to keep them going somehow. What else would they use if not the river itself?"

Biting back the taste of bile in his mouth his stomach rolled.

Was he just implying that we were drinking…

Before he could finish the vampiric thought, dust filled his eyes and debris conked him onto the head. Completely unprepared for the shock, Percy went to rub his eyes only to let go of the ledge he was holding onto and all too late scrambled to balance himself. The son of Poseidon none too gracefully fell and even less nimbly dropped onto the only soft thing below him— Nico.

And even he wasn't all that soft.

Choking on the dust, Percy rubbed his heels into his eyes trying to get the taint of Tartarus grime out of his eyes so he could see. A grumble came from below him as the younger demigod attempted to scramble out from under him but the son of Poseidon was arguably larger and the best Nico succeeded in was wounded Nico with his jutting hipbones and sharp elbows.

"Ow!" Was Percy's indignant cry.

"Ow!? Ow, yourself! I think you just bruised my butt! And the rest of me!"

Finally escaping, Nico was ruffled like a feral cat, hairs standing on end and back almost arched a little. Eyes darted everywhere, especially upwards at the disturbance that had caused the comical fall in the first place.

"Empousai…" he hissed.

Pulling himself together, green eyes threw themselves upward and saw exactly what the Ghost King was talking about. Empousai on their ungainly disproportionate legs (a donkey's leg and a prosthetic made of brass— who in their right mind had thought that was a good idea?) were scattering down the cliff face. Their pace was too languid to suggest that they had caught the scent of demigods but they weren't all the high up and who knew if their vision was any better in Tartarus than it was up on land. Their fiery hair lit up the black soil.

Gods, I haven't thought about empousai since…

As if finishing his thought, he heard the cackle screech of an all too familiar foe. "Hurry up!" Kelli shrilled to her minions above. "If you're going to keep like bothering me about how far the mortal realm is, the least you could do is put some back into it!" The exasperated sigh was felt rather than heard.

Red spots swam in his vision. Kelli… she'd tried to kill him at his old school and then appeared again. His fingers clutched his pen to hand, thumb steady over the end ready to transfigure the pen into his trusty sword when Nico latched onto his arm and gave it a tug.

"Percy," he muttered close enough to feel breath against his ear. Green eyes locked with chocolate ones and he felt compelled to look past Nico. "The ground— it's not ground. It's alive." and then he saw it. The landscape littered with what he had taken for uneven terrain or boulders was actually… pocks. Abscesses blemishing an already unappealing landscape. But they were… were they pulsing?

Just then one before them popped, excreting a lot of goo he didn't want to even think about let alone come near and… a telekhine crawled forth covered in the primordial grossness.

"And that means…"

"That we have monsters behinds us and monster before us."

"Comforting thought," mused Percy with a roll of his eyes.

Glancing at his companion, he took in the dark bags under the boy's eyes and his even thinner than normal frame. Hell, just landing on him, Percy had felt the depth of Nico's malnutrition if being stabbed by his bones was any indication. He was practically a skeleton. Immediately, he felt guilty for the thought as he knew that on some level, Nico would take offence to something so mean spirited. Shaking his head, he sighed. It still didn't install in him much faith in exactly how useful the son of Hades would be in a fight.

So which was the lesser of two evils? The wicked ahead they would have to face no matter what to continue on, or the malevolent behind they might be able to avoid?

Kelli's there… his gut seethed. The name filled him with hateful thoughts. They could sneak up from behind if we don't take care of them now. And as much as his brain was hardwired to think of every possible solution, some of the agitation was more self serving that self preserving.

"They haven't seen us yet," the son of Hadoes advised. "We could disappear into the uneven landscape. They can't have caught our scent yet— maybe we don't smell the same down here? I mean, it's pretty gross already."

The impassioned portion of his gut, though, wanted wrath not willing to pardon his enemy.

A shriek echoed before them. The telekhine in question was scooped up by a slimy, scaled super muscle arm that shot out from a nearby cave to their left. The cries of the telkhine multiplied as it disappeared into the cave and then fell eerily silent.

Apparently the demigods weren't the only ones who noticed and the commotion had the empousai in a frenzy.

"Is there any left?"

"I want his flesh!"

"Blood!" Another wailed.

In their frenzy to move faster, further debris fell down the side of the cliff face. And Kelli, her fiery hair framing her face let out a gleeful laugh. "Why Perseus Jackson! Fancy finding you down here. And who's this sweet thing? I don't think we've been introduced. He looks absolutely delectable. A little on the scrawny side but I bet his blood boils hot. What do you say, tall dark and delicious?"

Percy brandished riptide in front of him. From the corner of his green eyes he could see that Nico was sporting his Stygian blade, feet in a stance ready to defend.

"You wish," the child of the underworld scoffed.

A handful of the vampiric women soon stood before them forgetting momentarily the telekhine.

"Come on ladies! Does Kelli fulfil promises or what? Five star eating in the whole of Tartarus. But leave that one for me." A wicked finger jutted out and, much to his astonishment, her dirty fingernail didn't point at the son of Poseidon but at his companion.

And then all hell broke loose.

Who knew how long it had been since the she-monsters had eaten but Percy and Nico must have looked like a five course meal because they were scrambling over one another to get at them. In fact, a few were too busy fighting one another amongst shrieks of "He's mine!" and "No, mine! You fat sow, you always eat first!"

Nails extended, they bare their sharp teeth and moved like the shadows. Riptide at the ready, Percy found himself slashing and cutting but always just a few seconds too late. A lucky blow caught one in the stomach but that was after her sister in arms had pushed her. Just before she disappeared into dust she cried in anguish cursing the other. "She'll be back!" The victorious sister cowed.

She, too, soon disappeared into a puff of golden dust.

Percy chanced a look over to Nico, seeing Kelli descending on the other. He wielded is sword well but the older boy still didn't put much faith into how much power he could pack behind it. After his first stint in Tartarus and the waste it had laid on his body, Percy wasn't so confident his companion was up to a hundred percent. Not that the journey so far had exactly been helpful.

ADHD kicking in, he snapped attention back to the here and now, still alert of a million things happening around him. The pustules burping and new monsters being born, thankfully far off in the distance. The empousai no longer in fighting had decided that half of one demigod was better than none and were stalking forth towards him.

Ducking and rolling, he just missed a rather creative attack that involved an empousa whipping her blazing hair towards his face. If the scent was anything to go by it was very possible that Percy Jackson had just lost his eyebrows. Typical. Coming out of his duck and roll, his side collided with a hoof. It was the full of his body weight carried in that roll and he hadn't noticed the vampire lady sneaking up to his side. The kick stole the breath from him and spots swam across his vision.

Even without his wits about him, he went into autopilot. The blade he carried swung mercilessly upwards. It cut and slashed and jabbed. He managed to get back to his feet but had a hand thrown across his side protecting the tender spot. Everything was a whirlwind and Percy Jackson became a hurricane. His temper piqued and he was a hurricane destroying empousai until his winds blew themselves out and he was little more than hot air.

Then he felt fire in his injured side as its as pierced by talons and flames consuming his neck as teeth ripped into flesh.

"Salty," Kelli lorded over him before taking another bite.

Nico shouted something, still holding his Stygian sword high, but unable to get a shot in that wouldn't wound or decapitate Percy.

Then a titan dropped from the sky.

There's too much fire in Tartarus.

And everything went black.


So what do you think of Percy's POV? Should I do it again? And thanks again for everyone taking the time to favourite and review. I'll try and respond to you all shortly. I love the time you take. :)

Chapter Text

 


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Seven

Barnacle Brain Munches Monsters

Nico

 

The one thing worse than returning to Tartarus for a second visit was returning with Percy Jackson. Not that Percy did anything to rub Nico the wrong way but he grated on the younger man's nerves nonetheless. The hellish conditions were bad enough— it literally boiled and began to melt the flesh off their bones, an unforeseen complication when falling into the pit with Percy in the first place as his prior visit was locked away in a cage whilst starving to death save for cursed seeds and nearly asphyxiating along with a few other wonders the result of which resulted in Nico nearly going permanently dement— but they were also looking at a pretty impossible quest. Oh, yeah. And Nico in all his foolishness had (as they fell) promised on the river Styx that he would get the Barnacle Brain back to Annabeth.

Yeah, not so sure his first stint in Tartarus hadn't left him permanently warped.

It wasn't Percy's fault but the boy clearly wasn't accustomed to silence because a few seconds of quietude would have the other begin babbling about something or another. Factor in that, like many other demigods with their minds running a million miles an hour, he was impulsive meant that he spoke without thinking and as a result repeatedly crammed his foot in his big mouth. The child of Hades had to give credit where credit was due, though. The hero was incessant in his discussion even if he hardly participated beyond a glower or a high raised brow and a dark look.

Why couldn't he just be comfortable with silence? Nico was acclimatised to little more than the sound of his own breath, background noise, and the susurration of spirits. Soundless as shadows— that was Nico. He could go weeks or months without speaking and not think anything of it. Besides, when Nico spoke others tended to stutter uncomfortable excuses about why they needed to scram. Then they were gone and the Ghost King was alone again, voiceless and vexed.

Wasn't everything hard enough without trying to find something to blather about? Especially when the young men were so different and he just didn't have the spirit to venture to the only topics that Percy was not so subtly sidestepping. These topics included: why he had saved Annabeth, what that meant, what Tartarus had been like last time, was he strong enough to not get them both killed, and why was he being such a grumpy Gus in the first place? Just to name a few of the less desirable conversations that Nico refused mutual cooperation.

Climbing down the cliff face, Nico paid particular attention to their path downward, finding every nook and cranny safe enough for the halfbloods to use without plummeting to an unheroic end. Threadbare as he felt since the past few days, at least his muscles were not effete as he skilfully scaled it. Looking down kept him from looking up, that was for sure. And when he did the sight was distracting— he almost lost his handhold as well. Percy didn't see the clumsy way he skidded the last few inches down before his feet landed on solid ground.

That's when it got a little tricky. Empousai above, nasty baddy massive unknown monster in a nearby cave and monsters being quite literally birthed out of the earth behind them. Why in the name of the gods Kelli decided to stalk the child of Hades when she so keenly had a grudge against the child of Poseidon, he just wasn't sure.

"You know, I've always had a soft spot for children of Hades." Even as she hobbled forward, her uneven gate seemed to lessen. Nico wasn't fooled by tricks of the mist. "Must be the dangerous streak— always close to death." She licked her lips and while she might have wanted Nico to see a tantalising ten that was completely out of his league, the monster in her cheerleader skirt and blazer tanked more than she was a ten.

"Mist hardly impresses me. I can see what you are and believe me— you don't have a chance in hell."

Kelli's eyes narrowed and any pretense of pretending to be attracted to the young demigod were cast aside. Claws extended, her hair ignited, flaming upwards in her rage.

"You little… not want me? Everyone like always wants me! There must be something wrong with your lot…"

Oh great. Now even monsters think there's something wrong with me. He scoffed internally.

Seething, she pounced, a flash of fangs and claws. She moved just as quickly as he could blink but even though the shadows in Tartarous were not the type he could duck in and out of disappearing and reappearing all around her, there was a spring in his step.

Nico blocked her attacks but he was fatigued and more than a little distracted.

Focus. He told himself. But his mind was all over the place taking in the positioning of his feet, calculating how far he was from the ground that bore monsters, factoring in their travel towards the cave, keeping an eye on Percy who was covered in his own blood— again. The last fact was the one that made it hardest to concentrate.

A few good blows were laid to Kelli but just as he was about to land the final strike, a commotion caught his attention. The son of Poseidon moved in a way that Nico had only witnessed once before and that was in the first war. There was something dark around him as he moved— maybe it was the blood pouring from his side or the monsoon of his motions— and while he levelled the empousai who attacked he moved too close toe Kelli and the gale went out of him.

"Percy!" He screamed but time was different in Tartarus. It slowed down and sped up. He could see all of it before it happened, but Nico knew that he couldn't stop it. He was in reach and Kelli's claws extended puncturing the already bloody side of his body.

It was a shot in the dark but so was nearly everything that Nico tried— he never help much hope but that didn't mean he forsook trying.

"Bob! Bob, help me!" Nico shouted hoping the Titan he'd befriended maybe, just maybe, might be tuned into whatever wavelength he was currently on. Given they were in Tartarus, he didn't hope for much.

Stygian sword at the ready, he lunged forward but Kelli used the older boy as a shield and Nico feinted before accepting the uncomfortable draw. Three things happened simultaneously at that point— both of which he was certain Percy would not remember later given the way he was already faint on his feet— firstly, Kelli tore into the soft flesh of Percy's neck. The bleeding from his side was gushing now and the slurping she made as she chowed down on Percy-kabob was fetid. Secondly, a Titan fell from above wielding a massive mop and sporting a goofy grin and a pair of dirty coveralls. Lastly, before Percy blacked out he yanked at Kelli's hair (surely singing his hands to go along with the fact he was currently without eyebrows or eyelashes so far as Nico could too), but wrestled in her grip and clawing at her eyes, took a chunk out of her hand.

Kelli lost her hold on the demigod and before she could go in for the kill, the son of Poseidon dropped like a sack of rocks in a river and Bob swabbed her so roughly she burst into dust.

"Nico! I hear you!"

Wow. So something could possibly, maybe, go right. Go figure.

 

-----

 

If there was something that he was pretty certain no other demigod had ever tried before, that was biting a monster. Especially not a blood sucking, clove footed, vampire woman with seriously bad hair. A few things in that moment worried Nico as he attempted to make friendly chat with Bob while also addressing the situation at hand.

There was of course the litres of blood Percy seemed to be pouring from his side and his neck. Lifting the soaked shirt, he inspected the wound and could see actual holes where flesh and been ripped away. Familiar with battle wounds (especially those perpetually present on spirits of fallen soldiers), the Italian worried his lip. It was deep. And then there was the neck and the distinct missing hunk of flesh. No major arteries harmed, thankfully, but the rate of loss was concerning.

Next, was the blood on Percy's lips. At first he worried Barnacle Brain had somehow bit his own tongue off and was about to gag to death on it— Idiot, he thought— but slipping a tentative finger passed the other's lips, he realised it was still in place. But there was blood in his mouth and after only a few moments his lips turned hues of blue starting to darken to black. The veins began to raise up on the skin and they looked flushed with infection, darkening in colour as well.

Did he… he actually… Percy bit her and did he swallow some of her blood? Oh for the love of the gods…

"What's wrong with him? He's funny colours!" Bob whimpered helpfully as he clutched his broom and shifted weight back and forth. After a moment it took on a sweeping motion. Apparently cleaning helped him to feel a little better.

Think, Nico. He's been poisoned by her blood, maybe? Oh shit… what if he turns into some kind of hybrid freak of nature? Annabeth is going to kill me. Everyone is going to kill me.

"Percy, you fucking… you are so infuriating! Why is it always something? It can't just be straight forward with you. No. No, you have to be the one hero in the entire world to get dropped to Tartarus and drink some freaking empousa blood. On accident. While you flip out all dark side and crazy. Seriously, Percy. You need to get your head checked!"

The words tumbled out, accompanied by a slightly dramatic shake to the shoulders which probably didn't shake any more seaweed lose from his head than already filled it. By the end, Nico was winded.

Jeez. Talking took a lot of effort. Especially in actual strings of sentences.

"Bob, please help me. I think we need to get him to the Phlegethon. He's dead weight, I can't… I'm not strong enough."

Glancing over his shoulder, the tossed an imploring look. Not that he needed to. The friendly Titan gave a dutiful nod and cradled the unconscious boy, carrying him to the river's edge.

"Will he be okay?"

Nico could swear he saw tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. Really, the trip in the Lethe had agreed with him. He had such a tender heart— the Ghost King wondered not for the first time if he was wiped of his memories, could he be a better person?— but the convulsing in his gut caused him to cram the feeling down.

No time for self pity. You've done this all to yourself. You know that.

"I don't know, Bob. But I'm hopeful. Help me… we have to get him under. Clean out the wounds and get him to drink some. I don't think he's going to like it."

Wading into the water beside the Titan, they both held Percy. Holding a breath, he shoved the other boy under the water, holding him for a few seconds. At first it wasn't even painful, the nerves so overwhelmed they had no expression in their nerve-language to feedback to his brain that agony wasn't quite the term. Incineration— he swore he could even smell his flesh sizzling.

Soon enough, the boy trashed from where he was held under. Bob's brows knit in concern but the Italian held him under a few seconds longer for good measure— and maybe just an extra second longer than that for his own guilty pleasure. Hey, Percy had ignored him for like ever. Just a little payback wasn't an awful thing.

Finally, he pulled him back up.

What he hadn't thought of was the fact that Riptide always returned to Percy's pocked. The other thing he hadn't thought of was the fact that Percy, even in the throes of unconsciousness, was still hyper alert so while he was coming to he was able to transfigure his pen back into a blade and nearly decapitated Nico in the process. He jumped back and stumbled, falling under the current of the river.

Oh hellhounds! He swore to himself and when he finally had his feet back under him and emerged once more Nico sputtered, "Bob! Hold him down! Don't let him out. He's not finished!"

Bob was certainly the only Titan in existence who looked both uncomfortable and guilty at the same time whilst holding a demigod still. Uncertain eyes focused on Nico while Percy screamed. He was going to draw all the monsters to them if he didn't pipe down and somehow he didn't think that gagging Poseidon's son was any way to get him to calm down.

Riptide was momentarily lost in the river but sure enough the trusty pen would return to his pocket. Fortunately his hands were busy held behind his back and he wasn't able to fetch it.

Closing the distance between them, he slapped a hand over the other demigod's mouth. With his free hand, he scooped up some of the water and poured it down Percy's throat. The other sputtered and cursed, eyes wide but clearly not seeing. Whatever Kelli's blood had done to him had unsettled something in his head. A few more handfuls of water and the clarity began to come back to Percy's sea foam eyes.

This proved to be even more troublesome.

"Let go of me! Holy shit… blood… What is this? No, don't! Please! Let me out. Oh gods, blood. This whole river— it's not a river. It's blood."

Oh yeah.

There was that one tiny little fact.

Not only was Phlegethon a fiery flood but it was also boiling blood where violent deeds in life were punished by eternal searing gore. Tartarus has its own mist and while Nico could see through it, it had been clear that Percy hadn't quite pierced that veil to start with. There was also the slight possibility that in his own practicing with the mist— which he'd gotten decent at, if he did say so himself— he might have helped to mask it just a teensy bit more from his companion.

He wasn't exactly going to volunteer the fact that the only thing that might keep them going throughout this journey was actually consuming blood.

Besides, in the noxious air of Tartarus it burned off the skin soon enough, anyway. Not like they were walking around completely covered in gore anyway. If anything, it acted like a sort of sunscreen against the toxic haze. Running a blood soaked hand through his dripping hair, the Ghost King did have to accept that one. So it was a little tricksy of him— it had also kept them alive so far. And it was responsible for mending the massive chunk a monster had gobbled out of Percy's neck.

Shifting back and forth, Bob peered uncomfortably in the river as well. Not that he needed any kind of spf 1,000,000 against Tartarus but wading in the Phlegethon didn't exactly make the memoryless Titan feel any better.

It was now or never. Conscious of every movement he made, and the way Percy's shoulder even clothed in tatters felt solid and muscled beneath his touch, Nico gave the other a gentle squeeze. "Percy, please. Listen to me. It's Nico, you need to calm down. Yes, this has always been blood. But you were nearly eaten by an empousai and she took some monster sized bites out of you. This is the only thing that's going to heal you. Gross as it is, you need to drink some more." Eyes were hard like emeralds, capturing him but not forgiving. "I know I should have told you but Percy, please. Just trust me on this. Bob's only helping. Remember Bob?"

"Hello Percy! We are friends!" He added helpfully.

Catching sight of the coveralls and then the Titan himself, he stopped struggling.

"I'm glad you're okay," Bob continued. "Nico and I were very worried. Your lips turned black and you didn't look so good. I think you'll be okay, though."

Percy stopped struggling. Thank the gods for small victories.

Casting a glance sideways, the younger halfblood couldn't help but smile. He was simple and sweet.

Maybe not all monsters were bad.

The three climbed up the banks of the Phlegethon and rested on the bank catching their breath.

Percy refused to look at the younger boy and he sighed.

Not all monsters were bad, but not all monsters were him, either.


 

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Eight

Bob and Blood

Percy

Being a dining experience for monsters in Tartarus wasn't exactly how Percy had expected to spend his school vacation.

Not that he'd exactly attended the majority of his sophomore year of high school. Having his memory wiped and listlessly wandering on the opposite side of the country tailgated by monsters was a fairly reasonable excuse for not having shown up to class. At least, in his book. What his mom had told his teachers was a mystery— and then there was the whole fact of his mother. She was going to murder him.

Anyway.

Adding the checklist of Shit That Life Has Dealt Percy Jackson now included losing his marbles, getting a tattoo, falling to Tartarus, and being partially consumed by monsters, and then being completely sightless while held down presumably still in Tartarus and those things only touched upon his nearly 17 years of existence. Who even knew what life would throw at him before his 18th.

When he gained his sight back, he almost wished that he hadn't. Though his throat stung from the incomprehensible screams torn passed it as he came through (he couldn't see but he felt trapped), he hardly wanted to stop.

Another tick in that box was waking up held down in a running river of blood by a Titan while the son of Hades tried to force-feed the metallic liquid down his throat. At first he was convinced it was some kind of nightmare but the liquid was too thick and he was choking on it.

That's when he started screaming and kicking and throwing one massive demigod strop— all of which while not dignified was deserved.

"Let go of me! Holy shit… blood… What is this? No, don't! Please! Let me out. Oh gods, blood. This whole river— it's not a river. It's blood."

Nico had to see sense and for a moment he thought the boy would come to save him as his eyes adjusted he realised that Nico was covered. Blood dripped from his hair, soaked his clothing, caked on his skin and under his fingers. He came at him not to save him but to cover him, too.

Clamping his mouth shut, he ignored the stabbing pain in his side as he struggled though it stole his breath, or the way his shoulder stung as his left arm felt heavy and unusable. Nico's fingers pried open his mouth and dumped another handful down his throat.

Spitting it out, it spattered across Nico's face and he took pleasure in the clouds that crossed the other demigod's face.

He'd been tricked. He knew that much. And he hardly wanted to hear whatever lame excuses the son of Hades had to offer when all he knew was that he was being held against his will in a river of gore and he wanted the fuck out. But Bob was such a surprise even his kicking and flailing had to come to a stop. It was almost on accident he accepted the last few mouthfuls of blood, gagging and nearly wretching with each, until the weakness in his side and his shoulder lifted. Hiking the tattered shirt up, he conducted his own self assessment and though the flesh looked abnormal— sickly white like it lacked blood flow— it was at least knitted together and no longer a wound.

Dropping down on the banks, he laid staring up at the dark haze, hands behind his head. The fact that it was glass barely mattered to him. Tartarus was a predator and they were going to bleed no matter what they did. At least the glass wasn't nearly as sharp as the empousai's talons or teeth.

Percy's breathing was hard but he shook his head and closed his eyes. Maybe he could will the blood away. When he opened them he didn't see it. This brought him little comfort. The river looked like a river but that was just the mist. A trick of his eyes. He couldn't unsee what he had seen or untaste what he had tasted.

Another tick for the AwfulTerribleWorstDayEver category.

When Percy had finally questioned which direction, Nico who was both sullen and quiet, cast a look rather than responding.

Bob, who had taken to sweeping the immediate vicinity, hoisted the broom over his shoulder as tapped a meaty finger against his lips.

"That depends."

"Depends on what?" He found himself asking though his gut told him he wouldn't want to answer.

"Quick or slow. How soon would you like to die?"

Well that was a pleasant thought. Sitting up, Percy picked a few shards of glass that had shallowly embedded in his skin and dropped them on the ground. Wherever they were there was blood. Blood from his body. Blood in the river. Blood on his clothes or in his mouth. Each shard around him faintly stained in blood.

Nico sat feet away unmoving.

"Which way is the quickest to the Doors of Death. Do you know where they are, Bob?"

The demigod and the Titan pointed in the same direction.

"I don't even want to know how you know," he scowled at Nico who, while silent, wouldn't meet his eyes.

"All monsters know," the younger man bit back and pushed himself to his feet. "Let's get moving, Bob. The screams of those monsters and our blood— we're probably a big neon sign shouting 'over here, free dinner!'"

"Free dinner? Where!?" Bob chirped excitedly.

Cleaning supplies on his belt bobbed in time to his gait. Every atom in his body was currently shouting fuck this but Percy knew that was unreasonable. He wouldn't last a second in Tartarus on his own and as much as he was pissed off at Nico for tricking him, he wasn't dumb enough to discount the fact that monsters weren't all that far away from them. In fact, he was pretty sure he could hear something less than pleasant in the distance. He'd only missed it before because he was engrossed in some very serious glowering.

Trudging behind, Percy didn't miss the glance the other halfblood cast over his shoulder.

Yeah, yeah. I'm following. Doesn't mean I like it. Or you right now for that matter.

Was it unreasonable? Percy wasn't sure but he didn't want to spend time thinking about it. Because then he would have to wonder what Annabeth would have thought or done and if she would be mad at Nico for doing something as simple as keeping him alive.

But it's not that simple. He lied to me. Or lied by omission… that's the same thing. And that's a betrayal. Chalk that up to a kid of Hades' always thinking he knows best. Why would we tell Percy who he really was? Why would we tell him he's currently bathing and drinking blood? Both of those things are on a need to know basis and my name clearly didn't make the list.

Blood boiling, Percy stewed silently following from a few feet behind.

Was that in his own best interest in terms of safety? Probably not.

But he deserved a little time to feel sorry for himself for three thousand and seven things he had been bottling up since even before this ridiculous quest.

For as silent as he was crossing the terrain, he couldn't help but overhear the conversation in front of them.

"He's not mad at you, Bob. He's just upset with me. Things haven't been easy on him and… m-maybe I didn't do the right thing by him. I thought I was but sometimes it's impossible. Balancing the good of everyone over the good of someone. Especially someone you care about."

Nico nearly fell over himself as a massive hand clapped on his shoulder but the younger boy didn't flinch. Instead he skilfully threw his other foot out and caught himself before he could land face first. He even landed with an odd sort of grace.

Percy begrudged him even that.

"Can I help?"

"I don't think so, buddy. This one's on me."

A few moments passed in relative silence. Well, what could be counted as silence when there was a constant background rushing of air in one direction and another, and a whoosh of something he couldn't quite place. Then there was the weighted foot steps of Bob clomping along. Still, Percy wouldn't exactly class Tartarus as full of noise. It was like walking down a deserted lane in the middle of the night— you always thought you heard something but you were never quite sure what.

 

------

 

It was less than a shock to the threesome when a charging mass of telkhines swarmed them. It was like they'd said, the screams were loud and their blood left a trail. With the help of Bob, the young demigods cleared them out quickly leaving little more than piles of dust behind. Even that was swept up and away by Bob who took to shoving the mess off the bank of the Phlegethon and let it scatter out into the air.

None of them were hurt, least not as badly as Percy had been earlier— but he was on high alert now, not going to let himself do something so selfish lest he wind up in the care of the Italian— but Nico was woozy on his feet.

"What's wrong?" Percy finally broke the silence between the two.

Dark eyes widened as they scanned in his direction but took longer than was normal to focus on Percy.

"Just… tired. That's all."

The son of the sea god was just about to reply when Nico's eyes rolled into the back of his head. Before he could dart forward to catch the younger man, Bob appeared at his side and scooped him up.

Percy had to remind himself he didn't need to draw riptide. Soon, the two fell into footsteps next to one another. As much as he wanted to remain furious for the trickery, he couldn't hold a grudge against a boy who'd fainted from any number of forgivable things: exhaustion, malnutrition, the psychological toll of not one but two trips to Tartarus, juggling what amounted to a crap situation no matter what road he took. Yeah, he could forgive that.

The Ghost King was slumped over Bob the Titan's shoulder. The two were trudging through the field of yet-to-be-reborn-monsters, cautious eyes picking the path ahead of them. Fortunately, Bob seemed to know exactly where he was going. It only took him a moment of careful consideration before forging forward. Percy wondered if maybe he had some kind of sense of which pustules were closest to popping.

This will make a story to tell. So I was travelling through Tartarus with a friendly Titan— no really— and a child of Hades who basically wants to steal my girlfriend from me the way Piper tells it. And as if Tartarus isn't tragic enough, the landscape is actually Tartarus's skin and he needs some Nivea or Clearasil because the blackheads on this guy are so festering they pop monsters.

As if anyone would ever believe him.

With an attentive sea green eye on the Titan travelling next to him, he turned to face him when he spoke.

"Nico said I would see you again. He said Percy was very busy and couldn't visit but he said you asked about me. I thought that was very nice. Sometimes I wondered if you forgot me."

Tottering over a tiny bubble in the ground, Percy inadvertently killed a monster before it had really started to form and nearly landed on his face in the process. Getting his wits about him, he brushed himself off and sighed inwardly.

Smooth move. Thank god Nico is out.

"Y-yeah. I mean, I wondered if you were okay. Things up top can be crazy… I'm sure you know about the war. And then I was brainwashed and didn't even remember who I was or who anyone was for awhile. So I did forget you, Big Dude, but not on purpose. I remember everything now."

Except even when he had remembered it had been more of a laugh and a joke. Way to get a one-up on Iapetus and convince a Titan that he was a friendly clean freak named Bob. What a laugh bathing in the River Lethe was and did you hear? He even took a job in the court of Hades. From the way the broom was slung over his back in a specialised holder and the tool belt around his waist with various cleaning products, he had taken to the life of Underworld Janitor with gusto. Hopefully he was happier that way. The son of Poseidon had only wondered briefly every now and again, but he hadn't imagined visiting the pitiful result of a mission.

"That's okay. As long as you are you now, and you are my friend."

"Yeah, Bob. Definitely friends."

Note to self, ask Nico exactly what was said about me to Bob later. And more importantly why.

The further away from the cliff face they wandered, the more pitted the plateau was and it became impossible to bypass the infested bedrock. And that meant one thing and one thing only— climbing over what equated to giant zits on who even knew what portion of a physical demonstration of a deity.

"He worries about you. And he worries about me."

For a second he could swear that Iapetus— strike that, Bob— cuddled the halfblooded teenager just a little bit closer with a sort of effect ion. The observation wasn't expected. One, because it was from a Titan and two, because the Ghost King toed the threshold never taking part. He was elusive and emotionally eschew in the best of situations. And maybe sometimes Percy forgot that he was just a teenage boy with a troubled childhood worse than Percy's. Sitting on the fence because he didn't fit in wasn't exactly his fault when no one invited him.

Swallowing hard, Percy began the nervous clicking in and out of riptide. Pen. Sword. Pen. Sword. Pensword. Swordpen. Penswordpensword.

"Why do you say that?" Casting a glance over to the Titan, Bob looked down at the boy in his arms.

Pale, underweight and malnourished, purple bruises under each eye and yet still as he was without contempt chiseled on his face, eyes blazing black and bitter, he was innocent. Bob smoothed a hand twice the size of a ham over his unkempt hair.

"Bob can just tell."

Remaining silent, in part because he was hoisting himself over another massive pustule and hoping its contents wouldn't burst and cover him in what amounted to demon discharge, he nodded for the Titan to continue.

"It's the sadness that stays for days and days. Or the stories that he tells. Nico has many stories but I know he saves the happy ones for me. Bob thinks there are many sad stories. He is lonely, like me. But there are many good things to tell. Many stories about you and your hero friends…" Bob paused, stopping where he stood. Once more he looked down at the young demigod in his arms. "Nico is kind but he is different, like me. We—" from the way he shifted his weight back and forth from one foot to the other and the colouring of his cheeks (were Titans even physically capable of blushing? This had to be a first) it was clear he didn't want to offend Percy.

"Go on, Bob. I really want to know."

That was truthful at least. When was the last time someone got any kind of meaningful insight from a Titan? I could probably write a book. Annabeth would be so jealous.

"Outsiders. What we want to be part of is not so easy. He idolises you and maybe envies. But the stories… they are happy but even the ones he is part of are… Bob just wonders. Why is he always lonely when he has so many heroic friends?"

Slack jawed, Percy scratched at the back of his neck. Words were lost to him, his voice tugged down by the weight of the gravity in Tartarus.

The responsibility of responding was removed from his shoulders when Nico began stirring. Limbs flopped around like fish out of water and the whimper— no the mewl— was quite literally incredible. Nico di Angelo was feline without even realising it. He was like a tiny kitten— well a kitten that could call countless ghosts to his side and very likely kill everything in his path.

When obsidian eyes opened once more, he blinked a few times oblivious to what was happening. The shock that registered on his features as he looked up and then over at Percy with whom he was eye level with, caused him to flop out of Bob's arms as if he suddenly went spineless before all the rigidity and hardness set back in. Whatever wall had come down was back up.

"Well hello sleeping beauty, you fainted."

"I did not faint! I just— I was tired. I passed out. I haven't slept in probably a month and…"

The words died on his lips as Percy rolled his eyes and laughed. "You fainted."

"Shut up, eel for brains! I did not faint!"

"What type of eels? Are they electric? Because then they'd be bright." Percy laughed at his own joke.

Bob held Nico back as the younger demigod struggled forward, hands outstretched intent on throttling the son of Poseidon to death.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Nine

Iron Will

Piper


 

Piper sat on the end of Annabeth's bed waiting for the other girl to come to and, with a little luck, she wouldn't be murderous when she did. That last part was very unlikely but she had to do what she could. Sighing to herself, Piper McLean leaned forward and rested her chin in her hand, elbow propped on her knee. It wasn't exactly comfortable given the other leg was bouncing up and down sporadically all with a mind of it's own.

The light in the bunk was dim but the sun bleached streaks in Annabeth's hair still shone brightly. Not that the daughter of Aphrodite wanted to be blonde but her brothers and sisters of fairer complexions often tsk'ed and ah'ed about her uneven dark locks. Chewing on the end of one of her braids, there was a gnawing in her stomach.

When Percy and Nico had fallen things had turned ugly very quickly. The floor had started to give and there was only minutes to ensure that Athena Parthenos was safely abroad Argo II. It barely housed the chryselephantine sculpture and with the hope of all the demi gods not plummeting to their deaths in Tartarus— even the trireme wouldn't be strong enough to contest the gravity of the pit. Festus was amazing, but he simply wouldn't be that strong.

While the ship took flight, two heroes less in tow and everyone in considerably lower spirits, the quiet was broken by the feral ravings of Annabeth. Piper had watched the threads that held the daughter of Athena together dissolve at the seems. As much as she had come to respect and admire the older girl, seeing the way she launched at Hazel, her mourning manifesting as rage, Piper had to flinch. She had been through some tough situations but the loss of her love for a second time so shortly after being reunited— the daughter of Aphrodite liked to imagine that she would be stronger in ways of the heart— but she couldn't be sure. That evening Annabeth had fought against all of them.

And for a small girl, she was strong. And fast.

Grey eyes had a rabid light to them.

Jason had fastened arms around her and scores soon lined his lower arms where Annabeth clawed. She even attempted to bite, slipping and sliding, trying to break free.

"Don't you dare… don't touch me! I have to go back for him… I said don't fucking touch me! Get off me! Get your fucking hands off of me!" She had shrieked and she had spat and when that didn't work she scrapped and sobbed.

Never had Piper McLean seen anyone in such a state.

Nothing quieted her and nothing calmed her down.

In the end, the female demigod had to do something she'd never done before: use her gift to knock one of her friends out. It felt dark and wrong as she did so— not so much persuasion as forcing something to come to life. Annabeth didn't want to be coaxed.

"Hush, Annabeth. We will find Percy and save him. Hush, it's time to relax. We are alright and we will make it through this. You will make it through this. It's time to be silent and rest."

The words hadn't worked. If anything it just incensed the other woman and she struggled harder. Eyes the colour of sky flashed a warning to her. Jason's look said something along the lines of 'Come on, babe. Some time today. Before I lose an arm.'

Her own chocolate ones softened towards his.

I'm doing everything I can!

She practically threw her arms out in frustration.

Her gifts had always worked, albeit the stronger gods or goddesses struggled against it, but she'd never had trouble on another demigod.

How is she fighting this?

In the end persuasion didn't work. Clearing her throat, she channeled everything she had into her charmspeak and as the words left her, something dark boiled at the bottom of her heart and persuasion turned to pressure turned to compulsion.

"Stop! Stop fighting against us and let us help you. Calm, Annabeth. Be quiet and be calm. Go to sleep."

Grey irises locked onto her dark ones and she could see the look of betrayal as the daughter of wisdom's mouth opened but then went slack. All at once it left her and she was dead weight in Jason's arms dead to the world.

Jason's eyes had widened in surprise. "I thought for sure I was going to be short a forearm. How long is she going to stay like this?" Despite holding all of the girl's weight, his muscles seemed to relax. She'd been anguishing against his hold and it was clear with the still weight of all of her body versus the struggling weight of some, he was fairing better. Catching her under her arms, he hoisted her up.

Frank soon swarmed in and took one arm looping it over his shoulder. Jason took the other and between both of them they supported her.

In the background, Hazel watched her dark skin paled. Wide eyes shimmered with tears. With her hands clapped over her mouth and the way her shoulders shook, Piper knew she was sobbing. It wasn't until she reached up and brushed at her eyes that she realised she, too, was crying.

Never before had she felt so wrong, like the things that left her mouth were poison.

Catching sight of the conflict etched into her features, Jason reached out with one hand to give a tug to her braid.

"You had to. She was going to hurt herself or someone else. You couldn't let that happen. We'll take her below and make her comfortable."

A silent nod on her part, and a shout from the front of the ship from Leo asking if everyone was alright, Piper couldn't bare to answer. She left that to Coach Hedge— who was uncharacteristically quiet— or Hazel. As much as she liked the daughter of Pluto, Hades' Roman counterpart, she just couldn't deal at the moment.

So she baled to below deck.

And that's where she was still sitting some time later. After putting the blonde to bed, Frank had immediately excused himself for Hazel's sake. Someone had to console her after she was nearly attacked (albeit out of grief), and after watching her brother fall into Tartarus along with a crucial member of their quest.

Poor Nico. We just got him back… and he looked so weak. So pale and thin. And Percy… we just got him back, too. Gods, why does this happen? Mother, please, let them be alright. If there's anything you can do— for the sake of a sister's love and a sweetheart's love— please help them find their way.

At the end of the bed, she watched the blonde looking fragile beneath the sheet that covered her.

"It's not your fault," Jason had whispered into her ear. As much as she had nodded, more for his benefit than her own, she'd smiled sadly.

"It's not my fault but you saw what I did, Jason. What I can do can corrupt. I just… I never want to have to do anything so repulsive again."

He'd assured her that she wouldn't have to but, as with most things in demigod life, there was no such thing as never. There was always the chance of 'maybe' or 'eventually' or 'inevitably'.

Piper had waved him away to be alone.

"She won't want to see you with me when she wakes up. I-I think… maybe it would be better if there weren't any kind of couples around her right now. That might just remind her of Percy," her voice had cracked on the name of their fallen companion.

Jason had nodded and left shortly after.

Sighing to herself once more, the daughter of love dug her palms into her eye sockets trying to focus her thoughts. There was that adrenaline buzz still in the background that tended to accompany her ADHD in times of a fight. Right now, though, there was nothing to fight. At least nothing that had a manifestation. What she was fighting were her own paradoxical emotions about her gift and about what she'd done.

It was necessary. You would never twist someone's will and resolve that way if you didn't have to.

Isn't that the way it always starts? First you need to, then you have to, then you want to, then why not? Came the other voice inside her head.

A shudder ran up the length of her spine leaving goosebumps crawling on her flesh and a cold air blanketing her.

There wasn't time to continue wallowing in her own contempt as the sheet she sat on was disturbed by a foot kicking out slightly.

"Annabeth?"

There was no answer but the foot kicked once more. Athena's daughter fought against the haze her mind had been put in and it was clear that her body was waking before the rest of her. The other foot twitched, finger's on her left hand closed (there was blood under the fingernails— Jason's blood— and that made Piper cringe), and the right fluttered as if attempting to lift itself off the bed but an invisible weight held it down. Her head turned and lips parted, but her eyes didn't open.

Oh my gods…

The air was stolen from her lungs. Annabeth wasn't just opening her lips— it was a silent scream. With her heart pounding against her ribcage, Piper shot up off the bed. Despite Annabeth's thrashing, she wasn't waking. Grey eyes were still hidden but she could see the way they flicked back and forth against her closed lids.

What was happening?

Oh my gods… oh my gods, she can't wake up. She can't wake up because I didn't tell her…

Bile rose in the back of her throat as she reached out and she could feel an extension of herself, an extension of her gift, physically holding Annabeth under. From across the room, back pressed to the wall, it was like watching a night terror in action. Annabeth couldn't scream, Piper couldn't breath, and the putrid feeling inside of her spread. This was what it was like to crush someone's will.

A shriek tore passed her lips and Piper flew forward, grabbing onto Annabeth and shaking her shoulders.

"Wake up, Annabeth. Please, wake up. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I had to, I'm sorry." She repeated over and over again. Even as she shook the other demigod, she could feel her previous commands like iron shackles wrapped tightly around the other.

It wasn't until she fell back onto the floor, tugging at her hair, and crying for the love of her mother that she bonds broke and Annabeth shot up in bed, eyes wide and frightened.

When she looked down at Piper, all she could see was terror.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Ten

The Difference Between Love and Loyalty

Piper


 

The look in Annabeth's eyes had said everything.

She had fought, before. Monsters and deranged gods and though she hadn't seen battle the way the older demigods had, the daughter of Aphrodite had still fought. And in her blade she had seen battles, some past and some yet to come. But the fear that she saw in the steely grey eyes melting them into paralysing distress… that was a look she had never seen.

And it was aimed directly at her.

Piper had tried to apologise then through her tears but when she reached out for the older girl, her thin body launched itself towards the corner of the wall. Standing on the bed, the daughter of Wisdom was reduced to clawing at the wall and screaming like what she saw— Piper— was too horrific for her own eyes.

"Please, Annabeth. Please! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for it to work like that. I didn't even know I could do that!"

But she kept crying out for the others. Anyone who might save her.

Jason all but flew into the room then, though his feet were still most definitely anchored to the floor. Frank wasn't far behind him. The wild look in Annabeth's eyes prompted Jason to usher his girlfriend out of the room and down the hall to her own room. Just a few doors down and the shrieks stopped only to be replaced with the sound of wretched sobbing. Frank's gentle voice rumbled from the other room and soon even the sobbing stopped.

"What happened?" He tried to question her but Piper said nothing. Each time she wiped at her eyes, her vision was blurred only seconds later by tears that just wouldn't stop.

Is that what my power is? To force people into doing things that they don't want to? To take away their will and their choice. Mother, is that what this is?

And not for the first time she thought less than pleasant things about her lineage. Not about her father, bless him, who would never hurt a soul, but who just didn't have time. But her mother, well, a girl always needed her mother. In demigod situations such as this a halfblood really could use their godly progenitor to help guide them through the equivalent of power puberty because there had to be some kind of regulator switch to make sure she didn't do such a thing again.

The darkness rolled in her gut once more and restricted her throat.

"Baby, please. Tell me what happened Piper?" A strong hand undid the braids in her hair, freeing them, and combed through the strands. She fell rather than sat on her bed, legs turning to jelly as she was overcome with exhaustion. And still, her throat was tight. She just couldn't make herself answer.

Piper, dispassionate to all that happened around her, turned inward. The son of Zeus spoke but her own inner monologue was too loud to follow another verbal one. Blankets were pulled over her and she curled up under them. However long passed and eventually he left and the daughter of love fell asleep not thinking on the day but fearing what she might be capable of— after all, it wasn't the first time on a mission her path went so wayward.

Shadows encompassed her and the air— it wasn't right. It was both too thick and too thin at once leaving lungs overworked without ever knowing satisfaction for a full breath. It was darker than twilight, the lack of light made it preposterous for eyes to adjust. Eyes needed some light and this place, there was none. It felt wrong— wrong as in heavy, and thick, and pressing. Everything about her felt restricted— her ability to see, her ability hear, her ability to move. Nothing would focus and yet there were presences all around her. That tingling up the back of her neck, the one that made hair on end, shot through her nerves like the static electricity of Jason's touch after a heated make out. Okay, there was nothing suggestive about making out down here.

Danger surrounded her but she couldn't speak. There was no where to move to and like a channel tuned to the wrong station or a radio not quite set to the right frequency, something started to happen but it was filled with crackles. The hazy static of white and black snow filled her head. Something was happening— something moving ahead.

Two figures. They weren't defined but she knew they were there. They were moving— down. That direction was down. Down they went and… others came. Other shapes, approaching quickly and threatening. Fighting? Were they fighting? One fell. And a larger figure… he came, too.

Then it changed. The station flicked off and another dial turned. This time there was no picture puzzle impossible for her to work out but blackness. A feeling of hopelessness filled her. The voices were not for her, she knew that, because the fears were not her own. But the sadness— it froze her to her core. They spoke of loneliness, of giving up, of hopelessness and standing apart in a way one could never fit. She wanted to scream and tear her own hair out.

Soft at first and then brighter, light pulsed in the distance. It came closer, the crimson beating, a sound whooshing passed her ears. At first Piper thought maybe it was better than the quiet, the thoughts in her head, all the sadness. But it grew louder and it got closer and she knew in her gut that this… it was a heart. And the sound was lungs. The breathing changed and surrounding her she could hear laughter.

I wake, puny one. I wake and I will take them. They cannot survive except for my amusement. You know who they are and you know what I will do to them.

Give up. You know who awakens and you have seen what she will do. Leave these children to me, Piper McLean, and maybe I will spare you.

The voice boomed in her head and thought she slapped her hands over her ears, she couldn't quiet the sounds. The laughing. It wouldn't stop. It didn't stop and the ground beneath her feet shook and then split as earthen hands reached up for her ankles pulling her under. Clay filled her mouth and her nose and her lungs… she died slowly unable to cry for Jason.

The landscape morphed once more. The black shroud of night wrapped its arms around her and no matter how she tried, she couldn't shake it's hold. Every hair stood on end. She stood on the banks of a river, wide and steady, the soft sound of water lapping against the shore just inches from her feet. Brown eyes gazed down stream, the water moving more swiftly downhill. In the distance there was a soft red glowing— another river, but this one molten. Liquid fire. Fatally, the two rivers entwined and where they joined steam erupted forth; Piper had never seen anything like it. It was both sad and beautiful at the same time.

Piper's attention snapped forward when the bubbling became more of a murmur. In front of her, the water rose, shapeless at first but growing taller. Grabbing the dagger at her side, she prepared herself for an ethereal battle she knew from experience would leave her gasping and waking with wounds real. The river flowed forming a graceful cloak draped across narrow shoulders flecked with little things resembling tadpoles, she stepped forth with sandals made of lily pads and water softened pebbles, her eyes were deep pools and her hair was long delicate tendrils of the weeds that grew at river bottom and sometimes tickled little feet who dared to swim too freely. Words were caught in Piper's throat and so she did the only thing she could: stood there staring with her jaw slack and her eyes bugging out of head feeling small and insignificant.

"Who comes to visit my banks?" A brooke bubbling softly came to mind, the words tickled her ears so gently.

"P-piper. Piper." She attempted again more confidently.

Standing before her, the woman from the water, stood unmoving. It was clear in the way she held herself that this answer was not acceptable. She had not meant for her name but rather her heritage. Not for the first time, she blanched and bristled feeling less than warm and fuzzy. Fighting the brief wish to bury her dagger in the smug river lady's face, she took a deep breath.

"Daughter of Aphrodite."

The laugh that filled the silence was absolutely frothing like the base of a waterfall. Piper rolled her eyes. It wasn't exactly the first time she'd gotten that reaction.

"Daughter of Love," the goddess sneered. "What does Aphrodite know of love? Tell me, little half blood, what have you learned from your mother of love?"

Seething, her fists were balled at her sides and she lashed out at the woman, smart decision or not. "I may not have learned it from my mother, but I know plenty about love!" And she did, after all, she loved Jason. They'd fallen in love and she knew he would do anything for her.

"Oh do you?" She mocked. Stepping forward, she surged with water, the uncontrollable white rapids capping across the whole of her body. "Tell me, Piper, what do you know of love? What does any child of Aphrodite know beyond falling in love? Beyond wrapping men and women around their fingers and stealing their will? Anyone can fall in love, Piper. But when has any offspring of Aphrodite demonstrated the capacity to remain in love?"

The words pierced her mind and her heart like frigid torrents tearing past a dam. The thought had crossed her mind before. How many of her half siblings from back home had changed partners as frequently as they changed shampoo or lip balms? How many doting admirers had followed any number of her brothers or sisters at a time? How often had they bent them to their will to forget about them just as quickly? And hadn't Piper just demonstrated the casual destruction of will just that very night?

Reaching out, the woman made of water, caressed the demigod's cheek and in its wake left no more in the way of liquid than was already there; her eyes were streaming.

"Tell me, little one, what do you know of love? Love is nothing without loyalty. Anyone can fall in love but to remain in love… that is a choice one must make every day. Choices come with consequences. So tell me, what do you know of love?"

Piper remained silent clutching her dagger but she no longer wanted to bury it to the hilt into the goddess before her. Her stomach twisted inside of her and her thoughts drifted to a time not long ago when she had betrayed those closest to her in her own best interest.

What do you know of loyalty? a tiny voice whispered in the back of her mind.

"I know of love and loyalty." Pacing around her, her movements were fluid just like her constitute and yet, there was no denying that she was fiercely powerful, if not the most powerful presence that Piper had ever stood before. She could feel her skin prickling in the way it did for demigods when their heroic senses kicked in— the fight or flight response.

She wove a story then of gentle waters warming. Loving and knowing all the consequences but choosing to love anyway and the consumption— being burnt up to nothing. Being completely consumed, erupting like the steam before them. "

And then the war came. I was ethereal then, without enough energy even to manifest beyond a mere shadow. But I was first to come to Zeus, to pledge myself to him. I asked for nothing in return but I was first to pledge what little strength I had left to him. Zeus bestowed upon me a form once again because what good is a soldier who cannot wield a weapon? Others followed of course but when the fighting ended, the Olympians successful, Zeus rewarded me."

Her smile was wistful and when she turned back to Piper, she held both a nurturing and terrifying beauty. She gave life and she took it. She was both soft and harsh, depending upon this bend or that curve.

"He let my waters flow through the world, side by side with my love and down stream he let them join for all eternity. And I was whole once more. My word because the ultimate oath, for swearing on me is to declare the most grave vow of loyalty. So, daughter of Aphrodite, tell me, what you know of love?"

Right then, she had to admit, that she knew nothing.

Piper's eyes flew open and her body threw itself forward, bolting upright in bed. She was damp, the sheets around her felt wet. Just as quickly she scrambled out of bed, waking Jason (who must have returned at some point to check up on her and had fallen asleep next to her). She broke down then, a chill radiating from her core.

"Only one of them is going to make it back, Jason. Only one of them will come back."

Because she'd spoken to Styx and she knew what was in store for their fallen friends.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Eleven

Lifelines and Stupid Awful Sea Green

Nico


 

Lifelines ending felt the same at the age of fifteen as it did the very first time.

As soon as they had found themselves consigned to the shores of Tartarus, Nico had known exactly what they were walking into. It wasn't something he spoke about (how could you bring up such a thing in a casual conversation?), but he could feel the throbbing, humming, pulsing life that encompassed them. He knew what the ground was made of beyond the glass shards and needles, the sand that cut through their palms, the air that ate through their lungs, the jagged rocks they climbed down or over or across slicing into their skin and sipping at their blood. Nico didn't mutter of such things because having your paternal lineage defined by Hades automatically stamped you as a permanent social pariah, but physically feeling death— for coming or in progress? Well that was a whole other level of freak and Nico di Angelo received quite enough condescending or fearful looks without giving anyone a real reason.

Camp Half Blood hadn't been his home— and neither had New Rome— but he didn't want to be chased out with the campers following on his heels, torches clutched in their hands ready to burn him like a witch during the trials. Nico needed somewhere anchored to the world of the living he could return from his longer and longer stints in his father's kingdom. But… No. Death didn't sit well with your average person, heck, even with the average demigod. After all, they all spent a good portion of their childhood fighting an early death just for the chance to grow up. Having the ability to feel when a hero was getting a few steps too close, or when their wound was in fact too severe even for ambrosia…

Nico knew without wanting to know, just like he could feel the way forward.

Everything about Tartarus was wrong and while he had spent months in his father's domain surrounded by ghouls and spirits and all kinds, death hadn't felt the same as it did in the pit. Death was definite, it was settled. Permanent. The ghosts might not like it but eventually they accepted it, settling like the foundations of old buildings because they weren't going anywhere and there was little to do about it (beyond the occasional give or groan). Without a connection to the land above they soon forgot much of their previous lives or deeds— after all, there wasn't any reason to remember in the depths of the Underworld, and there was even less to trigger any kind of nostalgia. Real heroes, of course, faired different fates— they may always remember— but getting them to keep their attention (it wafted away like vapour on a breeze) and focus to bestow a tale or a meaning was a skill the Ghost King had taken months to learn while exploring the full extent of his abilities.

They were very definitely, certainly, acceptably dead.

But in Tartarus, it felt different. These were lifelines of monsters, not men. Even after they ended they never really ceased or settled; they were toxic in the air stirring chemical storms in the atmosphere and cyclones on the ground. They caused the air to become thicker and choke the demigods— thank the gods Percy didn't know what he was breathing in. When they settled, if you could call it settling, many of them were like pushing forth from the ground growing skyward from below, hard shells protecting the evils beneath. These were different than the soft pockets growing in the flatlands he and Percy crossed with the help of Bob the Titan.

He felt every difference and without words, it was clear that Bob did, too. Neither of them mentioned anything about what the terrible terrain really signified to Percy, though they shared the occasional knowing glance. Why split hairs? The journey ahead was trying enough battling his spirits to find the will to move forward and being a little blind or oblivious— it might help. Sometimes being in the dark was better than knowing. Nico knew that first hand better than most. Once you knew something you couldn't unknown it, no matter how much you wished you could. So this was something that the older demigod didn't need to know.

So it was that Nico was eschew when it came to mentioning that on top of being exhausted, cut off from Percy's friends, travelling through a demigod deathtrap, time clenching at his heart and twisting painfully, there was also the ineffable vertigo and the stomach churning migraine from the evil atmosphere. Literally evil.

It was weighing the teen down, but he kept his head up and his mouth shut as they trudged on. Occasionally he would pause to be sick off to the side, the friendly Titan would pat his back with a massive hand nearly knocking him over. Nico would stand, wipe his mouth, and continue forward. Bob kept up light hearted chattered even if the son of the sea was too busy staring holes in the back of his skull, wishing him bodily harm, and giving him the cold shoulder.

Fuck you, Percy Jackson. He thought to himself. Not that I'm doing this for you.

Occasionally, even he had to revert to his age and roll his eyes in impatience. Percy Jackson might be courageous and heroic and brave and selfless but sometimes the younger man had to wonder how much of the salt water the son of Poseidon loved so much actually filled his head. Like, really, was there even room for a brain up there?

In a way, he was suffocating. Not just on the fumes of Tartarus (which was suffocating on monsters and really Nico could think of few things more disgusting), but from the virulent troposphere weighing in around him. It was literally sucking the life from the son of Hades and he suspected as a repeat customer, it was happening faster to himself than it was to Percy. After all, he had an unbreakable tie to the Underworld and to Tartarus after his last visit. Nico shook the thought away.

When they were jumped by a herd of telkhines, the three companions had fought their way out. It was an actual herd; he'd fought them before but he'd never seen so many. The numbers were too many for his brain to attempt to tally whilst he slashed his Stygian sword through their ranks trying to protect his own vulnerable form whilst protecting Percy as well. Despite his depletion, the Italian teen slashed and stomped and twirled, ripped, pushed, kicked, yelled, and killed. Telkhines fell around them and when it was over the knot in his stomach tightened and the pressure inside of his head swelled. The lifelines of monsters ended but they didn't really end, not in Tartarus, and they seethed around them unseen in the atmosphere.

Nico fell.

The first time he was just a child, four or five. There was a shaggy tabby who visited their apartment each evening begging for scraps of food and saucers of milk. Mama shooed the animal away the first few nights while wide brown eyes stared fogging up the window, nose pressed to the pane. A little girl stood watching as each evening the patchy tabby returned only to be shooed again and again. She would return inside and the little girl would tug on her mother's skirt and look up at her longingly. Each evening the tabby returned.

Eventually, mama laughed and gave into the persistent tabby. Soon after, the cat ventured inside and was affectionately called Chiazza on account of the rust and slate coloured patches across his pelt. It didn't help that his feet looked as if they'd been trudging through soot and his whiskers were strangely white compared to the rest of him. Nico couldn't remember how old he was, just that little Chiazza had been around since before he could remember.

Bianca cried when Chiazza did not come back three nights in a row. And on the fourth night a strange howling came in the middle of the night beneath the window. Mama would not let them see, but she whispered to the poor animal sweet soothing things. "He is sick, my loves. He's not long of this world." Nico had cried then because he could feel the moment that life slipped away and felt the lingering thereafter moments later.

Their eyes had met and his older sister wrapped her arms around him. Young as he was, he knew that she had felt the same whisper of cold up the small of her back. The lifeline had stretched long but it ran out like rope and when it ended both children sat shaking in their room. Minutes later Mama came to embrace them both, petting her children's hair. If she knew then about them, she didn't say but cuddled to their tremulous forms and pet their hair until her children quieted and eventually went back to sleep.

Nico had felt haunted for days.

Bianca had insisted that she was playing with Chiazza for weeks following. Mama smiled and nodded at first, humouring her in putting out of milk and scraps of food. When these began disappearing, his mother's countenance became haggard each evening, anticipating her daughter asking to feed their deceased pet. The last evening, she dried her hands on the pleats of her skirt when she finished the dishes and turned to Biance. "No, my love. Chiazza is dead and you cannot feed him. This play must stop. He has gone to heaven as all good things do in death."

She had run out crying but little Nico had promised not to tattle when he'd found her playing with Chiazza in their room in the middle of the night.

When they left Italy, he couldn't come with them. Mama had assumed she was sad to be leaving for America. "My angels, it will be safer. America is a wonderful place. It will be good to us." And so they'd fled from Europe, too young to be much the wiser about Stalin or Hitler.

After that, it became easier to tell them apart. Lifelines, that is. Those that were strong, those that were weak, those than began and those that concluded. It wasn't something he spoke about, not even to his sister because, Italian or English, it was indefinable. And Nico didn't want to know what it was, not really. So he played Mythomagic and idealised Percy Jackson, the first other person he met who embodied something special. But where Nico was dark, Percy was light; the naive demigod just wanted to walk along the shore, sand squishing between his toes, surf lapping at his ankles and face turned up towards the sun.

He wanted to love. Not begrudge.

Bianca died and then he knew and once you know you can't unknow something. Despite the distance, the Ghost King had known. Hers was the line so long entwined with his own, he would have recognised it anywhere, even half a world away. Nico had been asleep in the Big House, hidden up in the attic— after all, he didn't have a House of his own. Curled on a pile of blankets and pillows, cocooned away in a corner where no one would notice, he had woken in the middle of the night struggling against the bonds of blankets. Black curls were matted to his forehead and he was sticky with sweat. What breath he could get didn't satisfy his lungs. Nico hadn't been able to define it, not then, but then the other demigod children returned. Percy returned and he had felt it and Nico came to know it.

As much as he might want to, he couldn't really hate him. Not completely. Not really. Not actually. Because Nico had known even before— he had felt it coming but hadn't had words to process the feelings and he hadn't wanted to know in the first place. Now he couldn't unknow it and he couldn't hate Percy Jackson for that. Just like he couldn't unknow the reason why he could never hate Percy Jackson and his stupid awful sea green eyes.

"How are you feeling?"

Nico took a few more steps forward before shooting a bleak look at the other.

"I'm fine. I told you, I was just tired. The fighting…"

"Yeah yeah… it got to you. You told me that already but I'm not completely stupid, Neek."

"Don't call me that."

"Ickle Neeks? How's that instead? It's better than the Undertaker. See what I did there? But that's already taken… that's a wrestler."

"Are you sure you can't drown? Because I think you've suffered severe brain damage."

"Hah hah." Percy chuckled humourlessly but his surveying didn't stop.

Please stop looking at me. Please stop looking at me.

And of course when he turned those stupid awful green eyes were still locked right on him questioning and noticing. Whatever it was the older demi god was trying to see, he wasn't certain. Crossing his arms in front of his chest, he snorted, the air briefly unsettling the dark strands that fell across his face.

"See something you like?" Nico deflected, the snark practically dripping from his voice. The younger teen sped up his pace hoping to catch up with Bob who was scouting ahead to make sure the way was safe; Percy just chuckled once more and shook his head.

"You know, I have you figured out!"

Blood froze and the Ghost King stopped cold. Turning in his spot, he turned back to the other.

"Y-you… you do, do you?" While he attempted to sound calm and indolent, a shiver ran up his spine and his stomach became anchored to the spot.

"Yeah. And it's okay."

Swallowing hard, Nico somehow doubted that.

"I mean, it's the most shit situation in the world. You get back from Tartarus the first time only to fall back in with me of all people. After what happened to…" he can't say her name and his eyes cast to the ground. "And then with how you, you know, feel…"

Oh, fuck. Oh fuckity fuck fuck fuckless fuckwit.

"…about Annabeth…"

Wait, what?

"…being back down here with me… that's rough. But I mean, thanks, for saving her. That means a lot. And we'll get back to her okay?"

Tartarus could have swallowed him up then, rose from the ground and pulled him down further. Blinking, Nico stood still, a statue lit only by the faint glow of the river running along side them. But then life, what was left of it, animated his limbs once more. He laughed and shook his head.

"Yeah, sure."

Then they were attacked by two snake hairs women who, unlike Nico, very definitely hated Percy fucking Jackson and his stupid awful sea green eyes.

 


AN: Ah and there it is. Please read & review! I'm loving the comments. And I'm excited to know what you think and what other POV's you'd like to see upcoming? :)

Chapter Text


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twelve

Gorgon Sisters Gourmet Grub

Percy

Figuring out Nico di Angelo was, arguably, a full time job. Arguably, because he was pretty certain that whoever was going to take on such a task probably needed some kind of advanced degree in interpreting different levels of silence and hostility. He had known the kid— er, teen— since he was a little boy with Mythomagic cards but Percy still didn't have even a meagre guess as to the inner workings.

If there was one thing to be said, he was fierce and always came through when you needed him. As for everything else, that was anyone's guess. And yet, watching him with Bob was a piece of a section of a puzzle of the son of Hades that Percy was completely unacquainted with.

"I don't have nearly as much kelp between my ears as everyone thinks! I've got a brain up here, you know," Percy shouted to Nico's retreating form. "And I even know how to use it!"

He saw the younger boy's shoulders shake; he pretended not to notice it was from the hoarse wheezing he was starting to recognise as Nico's laughter.

"Samples, honey! Try some samples!"

"What the f—"

Up ahead, Bob the Titan has stopped and with his broom resting against his left shoulder, his right hand was reaching out to take a small bit of something from a glinting hand.

Brass.

The word came to mind without any effort on his part. Even in the dimness, she was familiar. Fangs curved viciously hugging her bottom lip. Her eyes were wild and her skin a sickly spring like hue but the most distinctive feature? The blue serpents slinking and skirring across her face. As he got closer the distinctive hisssss filled the air.

Gorgons. Here we go.

Sure, Percy had suspected from the moment they hit that he would be reliving some of life's not-so-greatest-hits in the monster department but Kelli and now this? The SPQR tattoo on his arm itched a little— it sometimes did when some conflicting memory emerged reminding himself of his time as a Roman.

"This is very good!" He heard Bob boom, who was enjoying what looked suspiciously like a bat wing except about a hundred times larger. Percy had to cast a suspicious glance upwards to make sure something the size of a pterodactyl wasn't going to drop down on his head (not that he could see far enough up to have a clue if they were circling overhead like vultures).

Nico stood next to the towering Titan looking even more cadaverous in the dim light— a fact that probably worked much in his favour. Just like being recently bathed in the Phlegethon, did. The son of Poseidon was glad to let the mist of Tartarus haze his eyes but for the few moments he concentrated to let himself really see, Nico was a pale boy with skin pulled gaunt over his skin, purple bruises under his eyes, hollow cheek bones and darkness rolling off him in waves… wait, what? Waves? That was new.

The blue serpents slipped tongues from lips tasting the air and turned towards the son of Hades and for a moment he thought they were going to snap… but they remained alarming but inactive. Bronze claws pointed to Nico waving one of the dripping samples towards him.

Nico waved a hand in dismissal.

"No, I don't suppose your kind would want any, would you?" She sniffed.

What is she, blind? Percy wondered. Then again, Nico was looking more and more skeletal. The effect was making his skin crawl.

Turning her attention back to the more reasonable of prospects, she began her gimmick.

"Best in all of Tartarus! Fresh made daily by my sisters and I. Euryale collects them herself, you see. Meddy used to but so many of them turned to stone," leaning across the makeshift counter of her tiny hut labeled Gorgan Sisters Gourmet Grub, Bob shifted forward not wanting to miss a word. Bat juice— or something— stained his lips and the other half of the sample was clutched preciously in his meaty hands.

"And that just doesn't make for sellable merchandise. Oh, oh, or a good product, of course! And we only offer the best. This one is called Gorgon-zola. Get it, the cheesy flavouring? So what do you say? Would you like one? Or ten? What about a truck load?" She swapped in seconds from a woman describing a mutually experienced plight to an old friend to a shrewd business woman trying to push her product on a credulous would-be customer.

The Underworld's janitor, not the brightest crayon in the box before his dip in the Lethe was even further from it then; reaching into his overside pockets of his coverall started rooting and routing for some kind of payment. In the end he produced what looked oddly enough like seeds. "This?" Bob asked and munched the last morsel of his whale of a bat wing. A bit of gorgonzola was stuck between his teeth and another bit stained the front of his worker's coveralls.

Charming veneer vanished and the snakes facing forward snapped at Bob. He withdrew his hand.

By that point, Percy was attempting to sneak up the side of the shack without making any noise. Riptide was clutched in his hand. Nico, still and tongueless visibly tensed; he had spotted Percy out of the corner of his eye. With just the briefest wave of the hand at his side, he signalled for the older demigod to go around the back.

Why? His eyes questioned, locking with brown ones.

Nico responded simply by moving a single finger again, motioning to go around back.

Then he heard it through the wall. Something crashed inside and two voices followed, muted through the walls that were made of… bone? Was this shack actually made up of some larger monster's ribcage? Holy shit that was absolutely disgusting. Way to look out for your own and all that… the voices shouted back and forth presumably arguing. Then came the hissing and a few more bumps and the wall near him rattled. Okay, so they were probably fighting and that meant that the gorgon wasn't alone.

Gorgon. Samples. Family business. That meant this one was Stheno and inside would be her sisters. Eurayle and Meddy… a gorgon named Meddy? That couldn't be right. Meddy… Med… Medusa! The name flashed into his mind like bright neon lights and Percy clutched the handle of his trusty sword with more conviction. As if he hadn't gotten rid of her once just for her to come back down here.

Tilt of the head, Percy slipped around back.

From the front he could hear Stehno shrieking. "That money is no good here! Surely you must have something else. What did you say your name was again?"

"Bob," the titan replied.

"That's ridiculous. There's no Titan named, Bob. Hey you… kid… where are you going?" Nico must have moved.

With his brain going into that buzzing overdrive where everything was hyper focused even in as bleak a place as this, he had to shrug off the fear for Nico. The kid could take care of himself and he had Bob. What he needed to do at that moment was sneak in through the back and help dispatch at least one of the other serpent haired sisters.

Turns out he didn't even have to break into the shack. Whatever it was that had been knocked over caused smoke to pour out the door, and along with the smoke came two of the sisters, one running from the other.

"It was an accident," Medusa shrieked.

The red serpents snapped forward as her sister, Eurayle chased her with fangs bared.

"You worthless piece of ogre droppings! No wonder Athena cursed you. Absolutely useless!"

"I am not!" Her arms were held up trying to protect her face as bronze claws flashed and her sister smacked at her. "Not the face. NOT THE FACE!"

"Like anyone would want to gaze upon you! They turn to stone, Medusa. No one wants to look at you!"

Medusa screamed from where she lay on the floor and launched herself forward at her sister.

Like hi guys… demigod right here. Definitely interested in wasting you. Although I could probably escape without being seen. Maybe the lot of us could…

But that thought was cut short.

"Why, you're not a ghoul at all! Sissssssssters!"

Fuck.

Time for action. Medusa had her back to him which was perfect because it meant he wasn't going to turn into a giant sculpture Percy who would be far less useful than the Athena Parthenos. His heart tugged just a bit at the thought.

Throwing himself forward he slashed without warning and the gorgon's head went rolling. Gore spirited from her neck and he was careful to jump back, only a few drops spraying his shirt and eating at his skin. It was venomous just like the green snakes in her hair still slithering because of their fallen mistress and snapping at his feet. Her body turned to golden sand and fell to the ground, consumed by the blackened earth shortly after.

"That is seriously gross. I mean, Tartarus just like, absorbs you? Sick?"

"Percy Jackson!" Eurayle snarled, the red snakes of her hair snapping forward, fangs extending. Bronze claws forward, she launched herself and the two went head to head. Percy ducked, tucked, rolled, slashed, swapped, kicked, dodged, swiped, and stabbed at her. The clang of blade on bronze claws echoed through the air— a part of himself briefly wondered if that was like sounding some kind of dinner well. This way, monster blood and delectable demigods for dinner! Poseidon's son shuddered even to think.

Riptide, familiar in his hand, was still heavy in Tartarus. He found he was tiring faster than normal, limbs moving just a bit slower, his legs feeling leaden. Euryale noticed, her eyes sharp, and more than once her snakes came closed to taking his eyes out. One even grazed the tip of his nose.

"Ow, bitch! That's not even fighting fair."

"All's fair in the family business. How do you think we expanded? Four locations in all of Tartarus!" Shrieking, her hand shot out and she knocked Percy off his feet. His wrist ached where her talons had connected but he was up in a crouch and throwing himself forward soon after.

"I'm going to enjoy killing you! And then I'll make a one-time-only special. Perci-Perci flavoured kabobs! Spicy and cajun! Delicious!"

Mind was so completely focused on her he barely noticed the way the bone walls came down. Bob crashed through the shack holding Stheno like a rag doll. "No one is mean to Nico!" he shouted.

She was raking bloody streaks across the Titan's arms. Blue snakes whipped back and forth biting anywhere they could sink their fangs. The Underworld's janitor barely even registered it. The hissing increased when she caught sight of Percy.

"Percy Jackson! In Tartarus! The contemptible son of Poseidon rotting away in a god's belly. Oh this is too rich! And so worth the price!" Her cackles cut off, the force with which she hit the ground had her crumbling to golden dust and disappearing below Bob.

Percy was about to swipe at the remaining Gorgon's head but as he moved forward, a blade appeared through her neck and she dissipated from the shoulders down. Percy had a fraction of a second to control his forward momentum or risk decapitating himself as well so he did the only thing he could, which was throw himself down and forward in a somersault. This of course caused him to run into the legs of the one who had killed the gorgon: Nico.

The force of the roll took out the smaller man's legs and the two wound up tangled in one another.

"Careful, ghost boy. You nearly killed me."

"Someone had to save you." He spit right back.

Dusting himself off— literally, he was dusting off pieces of Euryale that hadn't yet sunken or dissolved or whatever they did into the ground— Percy pushed himself up to his feet and offered his hand. The son of Hades looked at the offered hand aghast, eyes soft. They hardened just as quickly concealing whatever he was keeping from the other and accepted his grasp. Nico weighed of nothing when Percy helped him to his feet.

Nico swayed but when he offered an arm around his shoulder to help, the Ghost King shoved Percy away, dark eyes narrowing.

"Don't touch me."

Stepping back a foot, he raised both hands like white flags.

Bob lopped up beside them rubbing at his belly. Every so often he glanced over his shoulder, a frown playing on his lips. From his belt he pulled one of his rags and began ringing it in both hands. A hiccup left him, probably from the ribs, but the thought left his mind just as quickly. The younger half blood had a hand resting on Bob's massive wrist and his head was tilted upwards.

"It's not your fault. She tried to hurt us— you were only protecting us. Thank you. You saved my life."

Was that a… Bob took the grease stained rag and wiped at his face, casually discarding of a few tears on his cheeks. With a nod of his head, he sniffled. His sigh was deep enough to literally blow Percy's hair around his head more dishevelled than before.

"Thank you, Bob." Nico whispered.

Bob nodded and looked down. "You're my friend. I will always help you. And Percy, too." Glancing up, the Titan locked eyes with him. Something inside of Percy softened.

There were monsters above and below but in front of him was tractable Titan. Who knew.

"Thank you, Bob," Percy echoed.

After a heart beat, Percy's stomach growled. "So I'm just going to be the first one to say it. How was it, Bob? And do you think it'd edible? Like for people… me and Nico?"

"Oh, gross."

"What? Like you weren't thinking of it!"

"I was not."

"You have to be starving. Like, physically. You must be starving. Look at you! I swear to the gods I was am actually so hungry that I hallucinated and thought you were a skeleton. Literally, I thought I could see your bones and this murky mist and…"

Reaching over, Percy poked at Nico's ribs. The younger boy flinched and smacked his hand away, yelping.

"See, all ribs!"

"I'm not a skeleton!" Nico was practically baring his teeth at the son of Poseidon. "And I am not going to eat… whatever that is! It could be people for all you know!"

"Did you see what Bob was eating? And besides… we're in Tartarus. Where do you think they'd get people?"

Sputtering, Nico smacked at Percy's hand when the teen attempted to tickle the other's ribs once more. "I don't know! I don't know! But I'm not eating it. It could be anything!"

"Suit yourself. Bob, you and me, buddy. Let's eat some ribs." Smacking the Titan on the back, he picked his way into the wrecked shack and only as an afterthought tossed over his shoulder. "Eating something from down here, that won't like, pull a Persephone on us will it?"

An answer wasn't immediately coming so he turned around, half holding one of the massive bones up in his hand turning his attention away from seeing if any of the food was salvageable.

The chill came off Nico in waves, darkness rolling over the ground and lapping at Percy's feet; when it hit a shiver ran up his back. The son of Hades was clenching his fists and with his eyes shut, visibly struggling with something. And just like that the blaze left him and his shoulders stumped.

"Sei incredibile! Esasperante! Vi sarà la morte di me," he mutters leaving Percy blinking blankly. "Come on. I'll help you."

And Nico begins digging through the rubble alongside Percy and Bob. Turns out, most of it's left, and they have quite a bit of monster jerky. It's probably the first upside (if there can be an upside) to all of Tartarus.

Nico elbows Percy when he tries to tickle his ribs again. The glare is softer than before. Percy just laughs maniacally like he's won some kind of prize while Nick shakes his head staring upwards.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Thirteen

Demigod Dreams

Jason


 

Every demigod grew up hoping that they would be next in line for a quest. At Camp Jupiter it was a solemn venture only for the brave of heart and sound of mind… or the seriously suicidal. At Camp Half Blood it was any old food who was ready and raring to go— or whoever snuck out at night and decided to give it a whirl anyway.

At either camp it didn't hurt to have an oracle on your side singing your praises or spouting green smoke or hacking through teddy bear guts. That was a categorical deal maker.

Quests were an exploit to test mental acuity, integrity, mettle and potential. Anyone who returned victorious was a champion. Those who returned at all were congratulated. Those who didn't make it back at all were mourned and served as campfire stories to be cautious because quests were only as glorious as they were perilous. And quests were what all campers grew up training for regardless of background or parentage or endowment and each demigod needed to grasp that they were grave.

Quests were awesome.

But they also sucked.

Jason Grace had seen far more shit than he cared to see and while he still craved the taste of adventure, his heart was full up with remorse. Actually full. Like another drop and this little grey raincloud would piss it down buckets full. He'd had a lifetime's full and yet he was sure that there were plenty more servings the world had yet to supply him. Gaea would make sure of that and barring her success— like if they actually saved the world and it didn't fall to fire or storm or primordial goddesses and various kinds of monsters and baddies— there was always the possibility one or both camps would be razed. And barring that— because there were like so many different things that could blow up in their faces at any time… gods, being a demigod certainly wasn't boring— he then had to choose his future and unlike choosing colleges he was pretty sure he wouldn't be allowed to drop out and change his mind again.

As impressive as the interior of the Argo II was, Jason preferred to be above deck feeling the wind in his hair and the sky overhead. The heavens above him quieted his mind and he felt at home skimming along the clouds. Inside, for as amazing as its was with all the upgrades that Leo had made: the beds that even made themselves… like how had Leo done that? Or the way their clothes put themselves away? Or the drawers that categorised their things but also hid any questionable magazines (ahem, Bare Bacchantes or Naked Nymphs anyone?) or objects from their girlfriend's prying eyes? Really the guy had talent and should design magic contraptions for every teenage boy's room. He'd make a killing. … the ship was stuffy and after a few hours Jason felt like he was suffocating.

The sky was Jason's terrain so to speak and he wanted as much of his element as possible and so he was above deck rather than with Piper below.

His girlfriend wasn't in any condition to go up above and get fresh air let alone leave the room. Whatever had happened— and he wasn't totally sure what had actually happened— has the girl spooked. Her normally sun kissed skin was pale as moonlight and she'd been cold as ice all shivers and goosebumps. As soon as she had been out of Annabeth's room and in their own— well, their room when Hazel wasn't around to protest because the girl was honestly scandalised by so much as cuddling or a kiss that lasted more than half a second forget one that even implied tongue— she'd gone still as a statue. Her skin could have been granite for all that she gave beyond curling up in a ball under blankets and drifting off not long after.

Part of the son of Jupiter wanted to wake her up to prompt her into unleashing whatever it was that was haunting her. But he couldn't charmspeak her though she'd smile and pretend like he could. So Jason didn't try.

Maybe she just needed to sleep it off, anyway. After all, girls didn't honestly want to talk about everything all of the time like they pretended anyway. He was smart enough to know that much.

Gripping at the railing a little tighter, blue eyes remained closed but the boy was not blind to his surroundings. He could feel every particle around him, the air whiting past and the upcoming nebulous clouds.

The daughter of love had been sleeping for some time, unmoving under blankets she had burritoed herself up in. It wasn't that Jason wanted to ignore her or anything but being cooped up inside made him antsy. His skin felt like it had been crawling. And up here? There was a very real possibility of attack. He needed to be ready.

That and ever since the other sons of the Big Three had fallen all Jason wanted was something to do. Hours had passed and it felt like days. But they were still waiting for Hazel's return. Fixed and vulnerable in a land where monsters were not so dumb as to avoid looking for them. They were accessible and the monsters would come— whether he hoped before Hazel arrived or after he wasn't sure. Because he sure could use a fight. Just something to get his hands on and batter a bit of his pent up frustration on.

The sky rumbled as if in response.

Jason's heart sat a little lighter in his chest when the wind blew through his hair. When he had been younger, he'd pretended it was a hand fondly parting the blonde strands; he knew better now. Opening his sky blue eyes, he let a breath out slowly. Leo had the ship on autopilot while he was below deck tinkering with one thing or another which meant probably attempting to make sure the accommodations were fine and the Athena Parthenos was secure.

Or trying to keep himself together.

It wasn't a harsh thought but it was bitter and hell, probably true. Fingers clenched at the rail until the knuckles turned white and he leaned out a bit, closing his eyes once more. With the majority of his upper body held suspended above little more than atmosphere, he still felt safe. The sky cradled him and he noticed the way the currents felt charged in a way only a son of the sky god could. His father was frustrated but the winds felt that way more and more often. Unsettled and changing. Split between two things and not wanting to disappoint anyone— kind of like himself.

"I know how you feel, pops," he whispered but the sound was lost to the wind. A rumble came from somewhere far off so he hazarded that just maybe his dad might have been listening just this once.

"So how do you decide, huh? Is there even a choice?" He shouted to the wind. No one was on the deck and after all that had happened, he was sure they'd forgive him if he want a little haywire. "I mean… everyone's watching me and I just… I don't know which to pick! Who am I supposed to be, huh? How are any of us supposed to know who to be? We're kids down here, dad. We're just kids!"

This time there was no rumble of thunder or flash of lightning, not even an sizzling pop of ozone or increase in static electricity to make the hairs on his arms stand on end. Big fat goose egg of nothing. Jason remained where he was, leaning out into the air and watching the clouds part around the hull of the ship and did what he had become so accustomed to doing: he waited.

Waited for Hazel to return. Waited for Piper to wake up. Waited for the war with Gaea or the war between camps or the end of the world or some other horrible event in between. Jason Grace— the boy who died from continuously waiting.

Maybe he doesn't know either, he consoled himself but the less beholden side wondered if maybe Zeus did know and just wasn't willing to share.

"The gods don't interfere my ass," he swore back instead.

Jason had pushed himself over the edge only to use his powers to catch himself, enjoying the ten seconds he allowed himself to feel free falling before planting himself back on the deck. Using his powers was like flexing a muscle and if the seven minus one… oh and minus another one… weren't going to move then he'd have to keep himself on his toes. Not long after he'd disappeared below deck to check on Piper.

 

-----

 

At some point the child of the sky god nodded off to sleep. And while he was asleep he had a dream of somewhere far away through darkness deeper than an inkwell and the haze of a thousand short wave radios. Somehow whatever godly channel he was surfing had just enough juice to give him a little something and that something was just enough to tell him that Nico and Percy were alive. Absolutely screwed in the middle of Tartarus, yes, but alive. That was more than he'd known just five seconds prior and more than he had hoped for if he was completely honest with himself.

Inkwell eyes met his own and all sharp angles and shadows, Nico met his eyes.

"Take care of my sister and I'll take care of Barnacle brain."

Jason's bodiless form shuddered.

"Holy shit, you can see me?" He wondered out loud.

"Well… yes. Child of Hades? Ghost King and all that? You're not exactly tethered to your bed right now, genius. Or your body for that matter. Now get back before someone notices you're here. This isn't a place you want to be— body or not. They might not let you out again if they find you."

With a wave of his hand— was that blood he was covered in? and he could swear that he smelled some kind of barbecue sauce. That was way too weird.

As if reading his thoughts, Nico waved and sent a chill through him, unsettling his supernatural form.

"Hey! Watch it! That tickles."

"Get out of here! Now." He hissed.

And just as quickly, Nico turned around and in the haze of what Jason was able to see, a Titan loped up beside him with— was that a squeegee on his belt? And a bottle of Mr Clean?— and Nico wasn't smashed into the dark earth. Jason was about to shout a warning but something held him back.

"Percy's shirt is ruined. Too much gorgon sauce! All over the place but… maybe next time he needs a bib?"

Jason swore he saw the child of the underworld raise a hand to his face and using his forefinger and thumb squeeze the bridge of his nose. This was a meticulous motion that Jason-without-a-body was all too able to see helped contain the quiver of lean muscles that suggested the son of Hades much like his father had a short temper and was very consciously keeping from flipping his shit.

The Titan, recognising the very short fuse that was about to light, held up a bottle in his hands and shook it at the smaller boy. With his white hair and wide eyes and the way his bottom lip quivered, he looked like a naughty child before a chagrinned parent. Which was hilarious, if it wasn't so life threatening, given the Titan was about ten times the size of Nico when factoring in things such as height and weight— the boy couldn't have weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet despite his increasing height.

"B-but… I did try! Bob cleaned the shirt! I-i… I tried Hygieia's No Hassle Hydra Strengths Kitchen Cleaner b-but… it was maybe a little too strong. The shirt is ruined." All the air went out of him like a week old balloon.

Onyx eyes flew open. "Of course it's ruined— it's Percy freaking Jackson," he muttered and the name was like a curse falling from his lips.

The son of the sea surged up to them all wicked smiles and Riptide in hand pretending not to notice a number of things: the way the vein above Nico's eye was twitching, the way Nico was grasping to his Stygian sword and likely thinking about stabbing it through his heart, or the way the shirt he was wearing looked like it had been in a tumble dryer with a hydra. The thing was rags, holes eaten through it like acid. Some of them might still have been smoking.

"No big deal, right? I mean, at least it's not blood. A little chilly but I have a feeling they don't get much in the way of fashion updates down here."

Jason swore to himself right then that he would forget the way the son of Poseidon licked his finger and pinched himself not all that far from his nipple (which was very definitely protruding through one of those acid eaten holes) all while making a sizzling noise. He did not however promise to forget the way that Nico's jaw was on the fucking ground with the young boy's own soul practically jumping from his body hands like nooses around Percy's neck… or how he hadn't blown up like a nuclear bomb and killed them all Jason didn't know because the son of Hades' face was World War red.

"It could be worse," Percy said.

Worse was the way Nico's face went pale and he threw his arms down and the strangulated howl that left him as he stomped off. Jason had heard more human noises from the monsters he slated on a daily basis.

Bob and Percy shared a look before starting after him.

It was very much a look that said neither of them was particularly distressed by this behaviour.

Go figure.

 

-----

The dream wasn't the thing that woke him, though. What woke him was being clawed by a set of fingernails that hadn't been trimmed since before this quest.

"W-what the hell!" He shouted though sleep stuck his eyes shut and Jason had no idea who or what he was even shouting at. In fact not only did he shoot up but, tangled in the blankets because he'd fallen asleep next to Piper, he fell out of bed and landed face first on the ground. This of course caused him to bite both his tongue and his lip, filling his mouth with the taste of copper and his sleep dazed eyes with stars.

Apparently this going from corporeal to body bound thing was a bit difficult.

"Oh for fuck's sake," he mumbled under his breath as he untangled himself and crawled back up on the bed.

Piper had shot up stiff as a board. Chocolate eyes were unseeing as she threw the blankets off the bed and bolted forward. Walking the length of the room, her foot steps slapped hard echoing in the quiet of the night. What Jason mistook for cold initially was her body shaking; it wasn't until the hitch in her breathing that he understood she was crying.

"Piper," he murmured softly, approaching her soft as a breeze on a summer's day so as not to spook her. His hands drafted over her arms until he trusted she wasn't going to retaliate by punching him in the face from fear. Sharp as lightning, she met his eyes and held them but her words and he tears were torrents.

"Only one of them is going to make it back, Jason. Only one of them will come back!"

"Wait… who… what are you talking about?"

Grabbing hold of him, her fingernails dug into him not for the first time. Really, she needed to trim those bad boys before he wound up with more scars from Piper's unkempt hands than he did from monster's they met while trying to save the world for the nine hundredth time.

"Gaea's rising and we need all seven, Jason. All seven of us. We can't be the six of us or we won't be enough. Gods only knows how seven of us will be enough in the first place," her voice faltered trailing off. Piper's dark eyes were distant, focused on a point on the floor down by his ankle and far away. She trembled then despite the warmth of the room.

"Piper…"

"Styx will give us Percy back… she'll make sure that he makes it but we have to go. Now, Jason! We have to! Get everyone. Tell them to meet above deck. We need to have a meeting. Now." She said the last word with such force that Jason felt his feet fly from under him and hurry him out the room and down the hallway. It was only a fraction of a second later he heard a surprised intake of breath and the way it left Piper's lungs much too quickly. She flew out of the room right behind him and with apologies dripping from her brown eyes by the way of tears whispered "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to charmspeak you, too…" before dashing up above.

Jason woke everyone on the Argo II.

"What the heck, man? Are we being attacked or something?" Frank yawned all while fisting at his eye looking like an exaggerated anime character just as he was waking up. His hair was sticking in every single direction except the ones it was meant to— gravity defiance was usually Jason's thing but Frank's hair was all about it right then.

"No, worse. Piper just had a dream."

Giving a nod, they all rushed up above.

Chapter Text


 

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Fourteen

Conscious Choices

Annabeth


Annabeth stood above deck with her arms crossed over her chest suppressing a shiver from the cold. Her eyes refused to meet any of the half bloods around her and were instead fixed to a spot on the ground just to the right of her battered sneaker. A tremor traveled align the length of her spine when she realised a piece of web was still caught on her shoe. She stamped at it for good measure.

A brush of contact came to her shoulders and she'd blame her overreaching nerves as the reason her hand flew up and she nearly punched Leo in the face.

The boy jumped back raising both hands like white flags clearly afraid that she would cause him some kind of bodily harm.

Smart boy, she thought to herself not because she was larger than him. She was a fairly petite girl despite her wiry muscles but she had also learned about fifteen different ways to flip a guy over her shoulders and land him stunned on the ground by the time she was twelve. That number had only multiplied over the years.

"Hey… s-sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. You just looked like you were freezing over here and since I'm the guy with the hot hands I figured I'd offer what little help I'm good for, yanno?"

She bit back a snarky comment that was bubbling up in the back of her throat like bile and swallowed it down. Honestly, it was the nicest offer she'd had since everyone had decided she'd gone bats in the belfry bananas. She was the most senior member and Percy was gone. Jason might have been a leader but it was her duty to make sure that they met up exactly where Hazel had promised and get the both of them back. That was her job. Emotional breakdown or not and she would be damned if she couldn't handle this one little thing. Besides, all the heroes had to deal with stuff like this.

But this stuff always seems so much easier in a book. Real life is harder.

"Thanks, Leo. Yeah… that'd be okay. I appreciate it." She even attempted a gratified smile for his sake but from the stiff feeling in her face and the forced politeness in his eyes, she was positive it'd come out more of a terrifying glower. Well, she tried at least. His hands snapped to life in that way they did defying all mortal logic and Annabeth held her hands out in front of them rubbing them together and basking in what little warmth there was. Sure, she could have returned below deck (and Leo was either kind enough or smart enough not to suggest it) but after the meeting all she wanted to do was stay right where she was— where the action was happening.

Hazel had returned unharmed with tears still drying on her cheek and defiance blazing in her eyes. Hecate had told her plenty and even prized her with Gale the farting ferret who honestly Annabeth was pretty certain she was going to murder soon for its noxious emissions— that had to be illegal in most countries the thing was burning the ozone faster than anyone could get a gulp of fresh air. Maybe she would turn it into some kind of hand warmers and give it to her mother as a present. It would absolutely reek. Okay not her mother, that was harsh. Maybe Aphrodite for being such a vindictive bitch.

Cool it, Annabeth. You're going to get yourself turned into a pumpkin or… a farting ferret just like Gale.

The thought made her shutter. She stepped a little closer to Leo and was thankful that he wasn't all about jabbering away. The silence seemed to make him uncomfortable, though, if the way he was shifting his weight back and forth from one foot to the other on repeat was any indication. Annabeth made a conscious decision to try and be nice— maybe that would convince everyone she wasn't going to fly off the handle if they so much as breathed the wrong way. Besides, she was upset before. Not that she wasn't upset now but she had just witnessed the boyfriend she'd been without for months fall into the pit of Tartarus thus leaving her without him once more. She had a right to be upset and, yeah, maybe even go a little crazy. Then there was the whole Piper ordeal and that would make anyone even more loopy. She shook her head trying to clear the jumble of thoughts from it.

Stick with just one frame of mind, Annabeth. C'mon. You can do it.

She mumbled to herself. Clearing her throat, she turned to face Leo better attempting to be more open and slightly more human. Fear widened his dark eyes and she nearly snorted and left but the more stubborn part of her remained steady in its resolve.

"Do you think it will help? What Piper said about Styx… do you think she'll help us if we go on this mission for her and bring her Diocletian's staff or whatever?"

"I dunno. I mean it wouldn't be the first time one of the gods agreed to help if we did some of their dirty work for them. I just… can't really figure out what she would want with the sceptre. I mean isn't it a little bit strange? To want a sceptre that has nothing to do with you? And might control things she can't even control? Doesn't make a lot of sense." Leo grinned, the light from the fire making his eyes look more lit with mischief and his ears that tiny bit pointer from the shadows. Annabeth could have swore that for a second his teeth even look a little sharp. Very much like an imp or an elemental spirit. "But since when do the gods make sense? Maybe she's gone all schizo, too."

"Or she's a collector. I've met a business minded monster or two," Annabeth mused. This seemed to tickle Leo who just let out a laugh and rolled his eyes.

"What are we even trying to save?" He joked. "A bunch of nutballs with too much time and power."

"Oh and, yanno, the world." She chimed in. "All the innocent puppies and kittens and babies."

"Or that. I like that a lot better… even if it means we have to go to some country called Croak."

"Croatia," Annabeth corrected and thought for just a fraction of a second how like Percy that remark was.

The two demigods stood huddled together and for the first time in the past however many hours, the daughter of Athena began to feel a little bit more like a human and less like a husk all dried up and purposeless. They two weren't talking about much in particular but she was trying and it was clear that Hephaestus' son was making the same effort with her; she had a feeling that Leo wasn't one of those who could deal with others having heavy emotions while he was bouncing around bubbly, hyper and vivacious. Just put a damper on his mood.

The shift in attitude, no matter how slight, probably accounted for the fact that when she felt a new touch to her shoulder from behind she didn't nearly jump out of her skin that time or punch the intruder in the face. Leo almost looked a little disappointed there wasn't carnage though, or maybe was a little perplexed the daughter of wisdom had nearly flipped him over her shoulder but failed to try and maim the next person who came traipsing along happily invading her personal space.

Jason's tempestuous blue eyes locked with her dark grey ones. She found herself tilting her head just slightly to make eye contact with him and worrying her bottom lip.

Great, he's going to try and say something about Piper.

She might have been trying to be mature and not alienate the crew members by being flipping crazy but that didn't mean that she wanted someone else meddling and trying to get her to forgive the poor girl who had first forced her to be knocked out and then nearly suffocated her with charmspeak. Aphrodite had never been her favourite goddess and, as if proving a point, Piper was now never going to be her favourite person. She might be mature and wise but she wasn't that together. Lifting a hand she waived off the other demigod and turned her back to him. "I don't want to hear it, Jason. Just leave me alone, okay? It's been a long day and I really don't feel like talking about it. You can go speak with her about it but keep her away from me or may the gods help h…"

"It's about Percy."

That shut her up like a ton of bricks to the chest. Snapping to attention, she shifted away from the warmth of Leo's fire. A conversation passed unspoken between the two males who did little more than make eye contact and tilt a head one way or another. It ended with Leo nodding and mumbling some kind of goodbye whilst excusing himself because he was going to get the ship ready to depart; they'd be leaving soon.

What she wanted to do was to ask. Just form a few little words and say 'what about Percy'? But she couldn't. It was like Piper had charmed spoken her into silence once more and while she had a will it wasn't her own to command. This time the pressure wasn't on her mind though but her lungs and her heart— had they stopped working? Jason, understanding so much, laid a hand on her shoulder and gave it the tiniest of squeezes. "Piper wasn't the only one who had a dream. I had one tonight, too, but it was different."

"What happened?" The squeak that left her throat was foreign and it took a few ticks of a clock to realise the voice even belonged to herself.

"He's okay. For now, I mean. He's alright. Percy and Nico are together with a Titan—"

"—Wait… a Titan?"

"And he has all his limbs attached still. I mean his clothes are looking a little worse for wear—"

"—Yeah but a Titan? Are they battling a Titan?"

"Like honestly. His shirt is basically a few strips of fabric held together by the sleeves and neck line."

"Yeah but you mentioned a Tita. Is it like stalking them? Gods, Percy would be stalked by a Titan."

"No, the Titan's totally cool. But his shirt… it's a mess. I saw so much more of your boyfriend than I ever wanted to see."

"…What parts of him did you see?"

"Nothing special. Somehow I got the impression that it's pretty humid down there, though, so I don't think he's going to freeze to death. That's the important thing. Well, at least not where he was or anything. I'm not exactly an expert on Tartarus or anything. There could definitely be like a massive frozen tundra somewhere down there but hopefully they'll miss it. Anyway, the important thing was that he was alright."

Without providing any real details of what he had seen besides an acid soaked shirt and the fact that Jason had apparently seen more of Percy's six pack and pectoral muscles than he wanted to, Jason wasn't exactly rife with information for her. It was somewhere around the point where the female demigod became so agitated about the Titan that her hands were nearly around his throat that the son of the sky decided to change tactics and provide at least some semi helpful information. Annabeth had never seen fear in Jason's eyes before but apparently going head to head with a descendant of war and wisdom didn't exactly appeal to him.

Pulling her messy blonde waves out of her face, she bunched it at the nape of her neck and held it there using her hands as makeshift scrunchies. At least it gave them something to do that wasn't assaulting Jason Grace. Somehow she was pretty sure that Zeus or Jupiter or whoever he was at that particular moment wouldn't hesitate with zapping his granddaughter out of existence even if that tiny little fact might be less than thrilling to her mother/his daughter. Tugging at the strands over and over, she used her fingers as combs (albeit very dirty ones) and attempted to tame her mane enough so she could loop it over and over, wrapping it around itself as if in a bun. Just as soon as she'd finished with nothing to hold it in place, she dropped the strands of hair free and then started all over again.

"So Percy's okay? F-for now, I mean."

"He was when I saw him."

"What did he say?"

"Well I didn't exactly talk to him. He couldn't see me. Neither could the Titan, either, I don't think."

"I need to sleep. I need to speak with him. Maybe if I can just get to sleep I can have a quick word with him. Let him know about Piper's dream. I mean that will be uplifting right? Knowing that we're on our way and that we'll be enlisting the help of a Goddess."

"I'm sure it will but, Annabeth, he couldn't hear me or see me. I only spoke to Nico briefly but he said it was dangerous. The monsters down there and Tartarus… they can feel the souls. You don't need a body."

Her eyes blazed. "Dangerous or not, I have to at least try and let Percy know that we're doing everything we can and that we're going to save him."

Jason's eyes clouded.

"Annabeth… listen, I know you want Percy back. But Styx… she said only one of them would return. She didn't say which one."

Her grey eyes met his, stark steel against a stormy sky. Jason might have been the son of the sky god but Annabeth was electric, her presence almost humming.

"It will be Percy."

 

--------

 

Earlier

"So what exactly are we all standing around here for? Just chuck me down and I'll go clobbering all of Tartarus! Have the boys back in a flash if it weren't for needing to watch over you lot!" Coach Hedge grumbled. His bat was clutched in one hand and he was waving it dramatically. No one bothered to question him; all the teenage demigods assembled were putting on a brave face. Hazel's eyes were still wet, Leo's were a little puffy, Hedge's voice was wavering in a way none of them would point out or question. All in all they were in a complete state. But none of them were pointing it out to the others just in case it was the final straw. They'd seen Annabeth's back break and while no one blamed her, no one wanted a repeat either.

"I had a dream about Percy and Nico. Not about them, exactly, but a dream about how to help them. A physical manifestation of the River Styx has agreed to help us. She wants something in return but she swore she would assist them in completing their journey through Tartarus but there's also some… well, some bad news."

Piper stood before them all, her hair sticking out about ten different ways from the pleats it had been tied back in earlier. In her rush to get above deck she hadn't thought to stop and check her appearance. Despite the fact her braids were coming undone and she had eyeliner smeared almost completely off her right eye and she was looking slightly green tinged, she still managed to look authoritative and, in a way, pretty. Annabeth sort of hated her for that— not that she was the looks type of girl but really? It was just wrong.

I make you, daughter of Aphrodite, a pact now on the condition you will not try to alter what is to come in any way for you will want to but you must not interfere. Much like the son of Hades could not meddle when he discovered the identity of the son of a Greek God unknowingly residing at a Roman Camp. You must pledge this now though you do not know the task or I cannot ask it of you and I cannot espouse my help.

She had promised, of course, because there was a way to help save their friends. Whatever it was, it would be worth it. Only part of her might be motivated by the fact that Styx had been right and that she knew little of loyalty, least her actions of late had shown the exact opposite of that.

You will travel to Diocletian's last place of rest and you will retrieve his sceptre and return this to me. It will not be gotten easily. There is one who possesses it now, one who is not so kind as myself, though he will help you. He will ask a price to be paid and if you can pay it, he shall bestow it unto you. Have the child of Pluto bring this sceptre to me and leave it on my shores so I may entrust it to your heroes deep in Tartarus. You must be quick because time is different down there than it is for you, and its effect greater on the one who has seen its depths twice. It has been hours for you but days for them and they have great need of it. Not just in surviving Tartarus but triumphing over Gaea. This coming war cannot be won without it.

Agreeing had been easy. There was no reason they couldn't deviate from their travel to procure a weapon that would help so completely. But Styx had not been finished and it was what came next that woke the female half blood in the middle of the night.

Child of Aphrodite, I must warn you: I will do all I can to help but an oath has been made. Oaths are sacred and they must be fulfilled, witnessed by myself. Only one of your friends will pass through the Doors of Death. The other one will remain. And like Diocletian, you must accept what shall come to pass. Willingly retire yourself. You have, after all, swore an oath.

Styx had left like a tide going out, disappearing off shore leaving Piper blinking.

Chapter Text


Tempting the Fates

Chapter Fifteen

Growing Pains

Nico


 

Digging through monster bones and, presumably, monster hyde was not exactly one of the things Nico envisioned himself doing as part of his second excursion through Tartarus. At least, Nico hoped that it was monster skin because it was acting like a tarp for a roof over everything and he couldn't imagine what else might be leathery but scaly at the same time while also being fire proof because when it landed on the hot stove in the back it just kind of sizzled and smelled gross without actually bursting into flames. Given the first trip around Tartarus had been by himself without a kelp-for-brains companion, his journey while viperous had been a lot less ridiculous.

"Non riesco a credere a quello che sto facendo per te."

"I love it when you speak Italian to me."

Nico threw one of the bones directly for the other demigod's head.

Jerk.

All so Percy could have some demon jerky.

Seriously, drinking the battery acid water was abhorrent but seemed less revolting than the idea of ingesting some Titan thigh or gorgon gumbo or cyclops steak or whatever it was the Gorgon sisters were peddling. Zeus' sand lays only knew what the sauce itself was made out of, "probably baby's blood and unicorn tears," he muttered bitterly to himself as he continued digging through the wreckage.

When they had cleared out enough rubble to create a crawlspace of sorts the son of Poseidon had looked at him hopefully those Mediterranean eyes taking on that baby seal I'm-so-helpless-please-don't-club-me-just-love-me look that they had. Then there was the bottom lip that pouted out like a puppy and oh for fuck's sake! Why did his bottom lip have to tremble? Saying no was like drowning a dolphin— you just couldn't do it without being the world's biggest asshole. And why was Percy standing so close? Their arms were bordering on breaching the effective distance Nico tried to keep at all times. Then Percy said to hell with that and put a hand on the child of Hades' shoulder lighting his nerves up like a nuclear grid during the missile crisis.

Nico balked, stumbling a few steps away in what he hoped was a fluid motion but wound up with him falling on his ass.

"You have got to be kidding me…"

"Please please please, Neeks? It's too small for me but you should just about fit. Please? C'mon. I'm starving here. I'm pretty sure my stomach's about to wage war on the rest of my intestines."

Iaepetus— Bob— stood right behind them blinking as he watched. His shelves for hands might have been able to clear the building as a whole away but it might do more damage than good— at least in Percy's eyes. It had become clear in a matter of seconds that Percy felt the instability of the roof meant it might collapse and Bob's massive calloused hands would compromise the structure. Whatever was cooking might still be salvageable and, hell, it might even be hot! A home cooked meal! Knocking the rest of the roof in, though, would probably ruin it and make for surly son of Poseidon.

Nico might battle monsters but he didn't have a death wish and facing a petulant Percy was a sure way to go.

And given the son of the sea god apparently had no qualms with consuming questionable cuisine but drew the line when it came to contamination, that made Nico his number one hope for filling his belly.

"What if it collapses on my head!?" Nico directed his gaze anywhere but at the older hero's face. He took to glaring at a spot beside the sole of his left shoe were some gorgon dust hadn't quite settled all the way yet. Their presence was still extant in the air, not yet ready to osmose back into Tartarus an begin the process of forming once more. It sent a shiver up Nico's spine but mostly it made him want to throw up again.

He'd been doing that a lot this trip. Even more than the first one.

Standing up straight next to the ramshackle headquarters of Gorgon Sister's Gourmet Grub, Percy gave a swift nudge of his foot to the building then glanced over at Bob. It only swayed a little. Bob's assessment seemed to say the same.

"Bob can get you out!" Was his unhelpful offer and yet he was beaming with pride all the same. The Titan had his broom resting over his shoulder as he had finally given up on attempting to clean the gorgon dust. Much of it was cleared away, though, and he seemed pleased with his handiwork. Nico didn't have the heart to heart to be harsh with him.

Besides, it was all Percy's fault.

"See. Bob's got this all covered. You'll be fine."

And then Percy flipping Jackson smiled.

"Farei qualsiasi cosa per te. Non è giusto." What lefty is lips was more of a wheeze or a creak than a laugh but the sound was foreign to his throat unlike the brazenness that travailed it. It rang paltry even to his own ears.

"You owe me, Jackson," the Ghost King snarled before disappearing into the shadows of the tiny hole the two boys had managed to dig. Into the side of the shack he went. What would have been a roomy fit a few weeks prior pressed in against Nico's shoulders from both sides. His heart skipped a beat, afraid for a moment that he was going to bring the whole building down on himself.

Apparently I've grown.

Which was a bit awkward given the time in the clay jar nearly suffocating to death and having less than three calories a day to eat. Apparently this hadn't done anything to stop a growth spurt. Then again, his limbs had felt achy and over extended, more gangly and knobby than normal. He'd written this down to Tartarus and the overall wrongness he felt just being down there. But when he took a second to think about it (because Nico rarely thought about anything that had to do with himself, and the time he did spent was focusing on the more dishonourable aspects) his bomber jacket wasn't so loose in the shoulders nor was it drowning his chest nearly so badly as it had before. And the fall had only been.. a day? Two? More?

Inside the shop he picked is way passed bleached bones and hides and dug through the collapsed building finding that not only was there monster jerky left but it was still hot. Stealing what he could only assume were drakon oven mits— he'd seen a pair that Persephone had and while these weren't nearly as nice (hers were custom made and designer, all the rage) they did the trick. Flame retardant for up to one million degrees. Pretty impressive stuff.

Nico shoved the massive pot out through the opening before, just as he'd expected, the whole of the framework came crashing down on his head. When he came to Bob was standing over him grinning. "Got you out!" He sang song'ed happily. Lifting the teenage boy up, he pulled him from the wreckage and sat him down next to Percy who was…

"Seriously? Seriously?"

Nico punched the older demigod in the shoulder one, two, three, five, seven times for good measure. Percy merely raised his eyebrows as if to say 'what?'

"A house collapses on my head and you're sat here eating monster food? What planet are you from?"

Nico then proceeded to rant in his native tongue because the older teen drove him maniacal in only a way the sea prince could. "Perché devo cura di te? Si sta facendo infuriare!"

Kicking at his shins for good measure, Nico turned back to the custodial Titan and thanked him for his help. After all, it wasn't like he was ungrateful or anything but Poseidon's son could have— he didn't know— maybe held off on stuffing his face until he'd checked Nico wasn't concussed or something. Or asked if he wanted some, which he didn't, but that was besides the point.

"Listen! I'm starving. And besides, Bob said you were breathing. You're fine! Have some of this, honestly. It's so good."

Nico was tempted to stab him through with his Stygian sword not for the first time.

--------

 

Bob, bless his little black heart, lead them forward. They hadn't told him exactly where they were going as of yet, but he seemed to sense so much and besides, he hadn't asked. He might not score the highest on an IQ test but the Titan was loyal and compassionate. Every few minutes he would check on Nico to make sure he was alright; apparently the hut had been made of Drakon bones (presumably what the wings were also made of) and he'd taken a pretty hard hit to the head. 

Besides being a little fuzzy and his skin occasionally melting off his muscles— which was habitual given how virulent the atmosphere was and besides they could just choke down some more Phlegethon— and the way his lungs and heart were still struggling, he was fine.

Somewhere behind them Percy was gorging on Gorgon food and dismissing Nico's warning about how messy it was.

"Because nothing says I survived Tartarus like slumming with a shirt covered in monster sauce."

The older demigod deftly ignored him and continued eating; he seemed hellbent on gobbling up as much as he could. "Who knows when we'll find food again?" He had argued. "It's not exactly Chipotle but… at the end of existence, can we really be picky?"

He had tried once more to offer the younger demigod some but he had simultaneously rolled his eyes, snorted, and struck him with a look even his father or Persephone would be proud of; the hero even stumbled a little missing a bounce in his step.

With that he stalked off ahead trusting Bob with Percy partly because he heard the groan that left the other and he knew, he just knew, that the numbskull had gotten that shit all over his shirt and he could not handle even an 'I told you so' at the moment without bludgeoning him to death. On top of the normal neurasthenia the other's company revealed in Nico, Tartarus multiplied his malignancy. Little things were boiling his blood.

Just breathe. Just breathe. Just breathe.

It was an easy enough mantra to help subside the squeeze of his heart or the faint feeling in his lungs. Maybe breathing in all the dead monsters was poisoning him from the inside…

Forget that. Just breathe.

Besides, he'd felt the other presence coming. Being in tune with spirits made him like the metal detector of the spectral realm; he felt Jason before the other was even aware of where he was. That wasn't exactly uncommon and since the son of Jupiter wasn't dead,he was presumably asleep. And asleep meant that whatever the time difference was, it was night time… or he was unconscious. But he was betting on the former. It was impossible to tell the time with only darkness and red tinged electrical storms overhead.

Their conversation was only brief and that suited Nico fine. It was enough to refuel his hope just slightly knowing that no major news meant none of those above ground had died. Still, it was embarrassing for Jason to witness the spectacle that was Bob and Percy… more so Percy. Bob could always be forgiven because bless him, his heart was in the right place even if its as ten sizes too big and his brain was about nine sizes too small. Nico would never fault him.

He was too good of a companion. And his only company in his father's halls save for the spirits.

"Percy's shirt is ruined. Too much gorgon sauce! All over the place but… maybe next time he needs a bib?"

Pinching at the bridge of his nose was all he could do to keep his head from exploding because he knew what came next even before the Titan told him. At the mention of Hygieia's No Hassle Hydra Strength all purpose Kitchen Cleaner, Nico could feel the heat of Tartarus sucked from the area immediately surrounding him replaced by an icy chill.

Tartarus was impossible. Not only were they being trailed by monsters, racing against the clock, attempting not to be discovered by Gaea's minions who would very literally like to stomp in their skulls and use them for hockey practice but he was expected to deliver the older demigod to the Doors of Death, get them safely through and not succumb to a major embolism in the brain. The Gods really were asking way too much of him. At the end of this if they didn't offer him immortality— or at least the promise of Elysium— he was going to have some very choice words with the big dude up in the sky. Ones that would certainly result in his being zapped into oblivion with a whole lot of who gives a fucks on his part.

"Put that away!" Nico growled for the hundredth time.

Not only was the son of Poseidon's shirt in tatters— literally it was little more than a neck hole, some arms, and then a whole load of streamers somehow still connected at the front (the back was far better off but apparently Bob had realised how strong the 'hydra' part of Hygieia's cleaner was after a few sprays and saved that much)— but the guy kept making inappropriate jokes about how hot he was or the draft his new lack of actual shirt allowed.

"Literally hot. No, really. Look. My skin's coming off. That must be a whole new record of attractive." The smile he flashed Nico was worth at least a million sand dollars, coming in like the tide and washing up onto shore.

This might have been handsome if the skin on his face wasn't actually blistering.

"I give up!" Nico shouted to no one in particular and when Percy wasn't paying attention shoved him into the Phlegethon. Not exactly the most mature behaviour but watching the other sputter and inhale some of the molten liquid was satisfying. Speaking of, his own skin was starting to sizzle and slide down his arm.

"Sick," he mumbled and leaned over lifting some of the water to his lips. And like each time before he was convulsing on his side for a moment but while his limbs were flailing about (Bob had just accepted this as normal and didn't try to interfere after the fifth time), Percy took the opportunity to sneak up and in an act of vengeance pulled him down into the water.

Thrashing about without full limb control he managed to thwack Percy in the face. The son of the sea just cackled before dragging the both of them out of the water.

Despite the difference in composition, Percy appeared dry. Even the tatters of his shirt appeared dry. Nick on the other hand was soaked through, bomber jacket, black skinny jeans, shoes and all. Factor in the humidity of Tartarus and the clothes were like a swamp. Shoving clumps of dark hair out of his eyes, he glowered at the other man.

Scratching at his chest, specifically in the exact proximity of his exposed nipple for the fiftieth time. Percy opened is mouth to speak, the smile coming in like the tide spreading across his lips… but before he could he was the recipient of Nico's wet bomber jacket chucked at his head.

"Put those away!" The son of Hades bellowed.

"I don't have anything to put away! Besides, I'm not wearing your jacket. You'll freeze. I felt your skin before. Even down here you're freezing!"

Nico glared but stripped off his tshirt. Underneath he wore a vest, the tank top not noticeably. The bomber jacket was pulled back on straight away to cover up his pale skin and gangly limbs along with his various battle scars (privately and publicly afflicted).

"At least put that on. No monster is going to take you seriously if you look like a cheap stripper."

"I do not look cheap!"

Nico caught Bob's eye.

"Percy does look cheap," the Titan agreed sadly.

"Oh for the love of the gods," he muttered and threw off his tattered shirt. Bob scowled because apparently littering— even in a chess pit like Tartarus— was morally detestable and shoved the rag into his back pocket. God only knew what he would use it for but Nico wouldn't question. The guy was resourceful if anything and he'd made the halls of Hades in even sharper shape than before.

The black top was too tight and revealed more of Percy's muscled mid section than was strictly necessary— a fact that flushed the younger man's cheeks and had him looking away— but at least his chest was covered. Now to keep his gaze up. Yup. Strictly up or forward.

"We should be going. Monsters have your scent," Bob chimed in.

Neither of the two found this particularly startling. Even if the Gorgon Sister's Gourmet Grub wasn't a massive staple, it was only a matter of time.

"Our scent?" Percy balked.

"Yes. Is good. Like warm buttery bread. Or mommy making cookies. Cinnamon and satyr… mmmm my favourite." Before he could start dribbling on the floor and make their path any more obvious, Nico motioned for them to continue on.

"Where are we heading?" was the most sensible question Percy had bothered posing since they had wound up in the hell hole.

"This way. Is a pit stop. Will be a good place to stop and rest."

For once, the younger boy didn't argue. He could use a rest. The tightening in his chest was amplifying and his limbs were more gelatinous than he would have cared to admit. A five minute breather would be much appreciated.

"Plus there is food."

"Wait… actual food? Or more monster food?"

"Human food."

"Why didn't you tell me before I started eating this stuff?"

Bob scratched at his head as they continued forward, the Phlegethon staying to their right. There was a few minutes of genuine consideration before he answered. "Well… Gorgon sisters is very good. Lady Hades," because he couldn't pronounce Persephone's name without stuttering, "always says it is good to try local cuisine."

And for once the older demigod had no reply for that.

Nico smirked and patted Bob on the back.

That was why he was his best friend; you couldn't find them better than Bob.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Sixteen

Some Much Needed Laughter

Percy

 


 

 

Percy's stomach had stopped complaining since he'd eaten an entire shack's worth of drakon wings. Well, at least all of what was in there that wasn't completely contaminated. Bob had accepted two of the wings with thanks but then offered one of them back to the son of the sea as he hoovered the food down.

He had never been so hungry in his life. He ripped the meat off the bone with avarice. Percy couldn't even stop himself until there wasn't a scrap left on a single bone.

What would Annabeth say? He could only imagine.

Except she's up there. Eating blue jelly beans and Almond Joys and gulping blue raspberry slushies and loving life. Piper's got her horn and I bet they've got a campfire and are making smokes and burgers. Man I would absolutely kill for a burger. I'd probably eat the whole cow.

Full as he was, the demigod was not sated and his stomach twisted with a resentful pang. Unlike drinking from the shore of the Phlegethon, the meat he'd eaten did help with the feeling of fullness of his stomach but it wasn't the same as mortal food. Maybe there was some kind of science to it but since it was divine or demonic or supernatural or however wanted to think of it, it didn't compute with his digestive system. Lest not in the way that nourished him any.

Go fucking figure.

A big fat burrito was sounding pretty good or, heck, even some skittles. Especially the blue ones. Man he'd sell his kidney for a bag of blue skittles. A guy could live without a kidney, couldn't they? He was pretty sure that Annabeth had talked about that some time like the black market for organs or something terribly (un)interesting and he'd just kind of 'mmm'ed and 'ahhh'ed and glazed over.

One thing he was positive that all of Tartarus had never experienced before was a thunderous belch of a demigod battling the leaden feeling of monster food in his belly.

Nico threw icicles over his shoulder— the look was so cold that Percy actually stumbled in his steps and nearly went crashing to the ground.

Gods, he's gotten really good at that. Must be practicing.

There was only a brief pause in his thoughts as he scrambled to his feet and jogged to catch up.

"Fine. I'm totally fine. Meant to do that, don't worry about me!" he muttered to no one at all.

Or… or I make him all warm and fuzzy inside.

Letting out a groan, he finally caught up with the other's.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me there was food. Like… real food," he whined.

If he heard, the only living son of Hades didn't so much as flinch or incline his head in any sort of recognition. Apparently he was still testy about the minor concussion he may have sustained helping the other boy.

Bob, on the other hand, gave a bit of a shrug.

"You were hungry. You ate. I see no problem," had been his response for the third time.

And, for the third time, Percy had to go quiet because he couldn't honestly argue with that.

The closest comeback he received was in the form of a triumphant smile and di Angelo's dark eyes locking with his green ones. Or maybe it was a little bit less of a smile than it was a really intent glower. A shiver crawled up Percy's spine and he swore that Nico nearly chilled the blood in his veins. No point in acknowledging that one. He had basically forced the other boy to go into a crumbling building to get his dinner because he was a hair smaller than him and in the process said building did kind of bury him. Then he'd eaten ribs rather than check on him— but to be fair, Bob had had it under control.

And when had Nico started only being a hair smaller than him, anyway? He used to gulf the other child of a Big Three.

I swear he was a lot smaller a few days ago. Maybe he's going through a growth spurt? Talk about awkward timing. We'll waltz through the doors of death— because it's totally something we would do— and everyone will be like 'woah you made it' and then 'what the hell, Nico! You got tall!' Forget about what happened.

Honestly, that would be kind of a relief. Snickering, he rolled his eyes at himself. He was probably going insane but Tartarus more than likely did that to a guy. After all, Nico had come back all kinds of wigged out after the first time— just a matter of time, really, before he lost his marbles. Not like Percy had started with a whole bag to begin with— at least according to Annabeth. Surely she would know better than most.

It was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of them at any given point, at least with any depth of clarity. Because beyond being pitch black with some weird dim throbbing light that palpitated from who knew where— the atmosphere itself was predatory. It didn't want them to be able to see what was coming; he felt it in his gut. There might be a vague shape somewhere ahead but it never quite snapped into focus until it was nearly on top of them.

Poseidon's son put his faith in the fact that Bob might be able to see better than either he or Nico. Not that he'd asked Nico and maybe the prince of the Underworld had his own built in GPS going on. Bob, however, was made for Tartarus, really. Or, well, Tartarus was made for his kind. It was the whole chicken or the egg question, wasn't it? However one wanted to look at it.

"Woah… is that…"

"Yes! Rest stop! We are here." To illustrate exactly how pedestrian his semi-coherent thought had been, Bob waved to a sign post not a foot from Percy. It was a welcome sign to 'the only pit stop in all of Tartarus.'

Nico cackled and he really deserved that one. At least he wasn't totally ignoring Percy now.

Standing just a bit taller, Bob pranced forward clearly delighted with himself. IT was comical because the other didn't need to stand any straighter; he already towered over both of them enough that if the sun ever braved shining into the depths of Tartarus, both demigods would be engulfed in his shadow. Even if Nico sat on Percy's shoulders. Still, it was impossible to begrudge the thoughtful glint in Bob's eye.

Maybe he's trying to impress me or Nico? That's really sort of sweet…

Jostling some kind of bead curtain he imagined was acting as a door, they entered a temple of sorts. Granite pillars held the high ceiling though more than a cursory glance up showed it was cracked and worse for wear. On second thoughts… this might not exactly be any safer than the Gorgon Sister's Gourmet Grub shack. Maybe Poseidon's son should say something lest another building collapse onto Nico; the son of the sea's life would be forfeit, he was certain.

Circling the outer ring of the temple, Percy Jackson wondered in wonder with his jaw only halfway meeting the floor. It was definitely man made and in the centre of the temple was a massive statue of Hermes. A few feet away from that was a massive hearth much like the one back at Camp Half Blood. How it glowed so bright or what continued to fuel the Greek fire, Percy didn't bother questioning. But how a temple found itself in whole inside the depths of Tartarus, that was worst a brief thought.

"Where did it come from?" The younger demigod rasped obviously in the same state of wonder. Or maybe moreso. His eyes were full moons and the gravitated around the temple until they'd circled it three, four, five times. There was still more to see.

Bob shrugged and hookedh is thumbs into the shoulder straps of his coveralls. "Not sure. Fell one day. Long time ago… hard to tell. Time down here is different than in the Underworld or up top. But it fell a long time ago. Monsters don't like it… makes them uncomfortable. Not a good place to come. Many die. Creeps them out." Seeing the Titan shiver was unsettling at best and Percy chewed at his bottom lip hoping that the dunk in the Lethe didn't somehow reverse itself because it looked like some long rusted gears were attempting to grease themselves back up and turn.

"It fell." Nico repeated the words as if it made the most sense out of anything they'd encountered so far— and maybe it did.

Ahead of him, the Ghost King stood inspecting the fifteen foot statue as if sizing it up. Sidling up next to him, Percy gave a playful bounce of his hip against the younger man's. "I don't think its' going to get up and walk away. Or attack us. Fairly certain it's actually made of stone."

Nico recoiled widening the chasm between them until there was a less than friendly distance.

"Do you really want to take the chance?"

"Yeah, okay. I guess it doesn't hurt to give it a once over. Make sure it's actually safe. Who knows if some dumb telkhine decided to work it over."

Percy continued jabbering on just to fill the silence.

A once over included both men circling the monument and giving it a few well placed pokes and kicks attempting to discover any booby-traps or trap doors. While this plan may not have been the most ingenious it was certainly the fastest and most comprehensive. They were done in under two minutes and both quite satisfied the thing wasn't going to spring to life and throttle them or pop open a hidden door and molotov them.

Bob stood behind watching them without a word. If he thought there was anything unusual about their behaviour he was too polite to voice his opinion. The thought was so outlandish that Percy had to snort— imagining a Titan existing too respectful to let a pair of underage demigods know when they were being foolish— now that was a good one. Then again, the thought of being in Tartarus was pretty outlandish so that kind of set the bar for their lives at the moment.

Not that Percy would have minded a slightly less challenging bar but if there was one thing the son of the sea had accepted, it was that the gods had nothing less inshore for him than unsurpassable odds.

And he would, of course, be expected to traverse.

As always.

"It hasn't gotten up and walked away so I say it's fine."

Because safe was probably too broad of a word. And since they hadn't been blown away or had any hidden chambers creak open and drop them even further into Tartarus, Percy decided it was clear enough for him to drop down by the hearth of Greek fire. He gave a casual pat to one of Hermes' sandal clad feet.

"Sorry about the uncerimonial pat down, big guy. I'll burn some extra offerings for you— you know— when we get back up top."

Hermes probably couldn't hear him, not from this depth anyway, but he felt better paying at least some respect.

"Bob will check outside. Make sure everything is okay. Cover up your scent."

Nico smiled his thanks to his unlikely friend and dropped down a few feet away on the opposite side, green flames licking the air and distorting his face some. It made it look softer, almost wistful…

Fortunately the flames didn't burn hot or he couldn't have flopped back and laid before them. Tartarus as a whole was humid. Now he loved moisture as much as the next elemental spawn but even the act of sitting caused perspiration to bead on his forehead and droplets to slip down his chest towards his navel. It was physically sickening.

Stretching out on the cool granite floor— he wasn't going to ask how it stayed wintry— the tshirt Nico had tossed at his head rode up his stomach. No doubt a tanned patch of skin was uncovered but he couldn't be bothered to attempt to pull it down. It was still damp (either from his sweat or from the cannonball into the Phlegethon) but pressed to the cool ground as it was it was heavenly. Fuck it, let his skin hang out a bit. He just wanted to cool off and feel like he wasn't burning up from the inside out.

I would give anything for an ice cold can of soda. Pepsi. Mountain Dew. Blue mountain dew… definitely mountain dew…

"Ow! Holy… what the fuck!?"

And then he was covered in a wave of sticky foam. An exploded can of pepsi rolled around near him having crashed hard into his head and then popped the moment it met with the cold granite floor.

Sitting up, he rubbed at the lump quickly forming on the back of his head. Nico disappeared behind the glowing green flames and at first he thought he was choking. Had something gotten him, too?

Completely forgetting the can of something or other at his feet, Percy threw himself forward and jumbled forward until he was on the other side of the hearth. What he found was Nico, hands over his face, shoulder jumping in fits accompanied by a raspy roar.

"Oh hah hah. I thought you were being attacked or something, dirtbag." Feinting a kick, he instead just pushed at the Ghost King's ankle with his foot.

"Your face!" He giggled. "Your fucking face!"

Then he snorted and it was all over. Percy fell to the ground, knees locking from laughter.

"A-and… and then it… it exploded all over you! You're drenched in… you're d-drenched in soda. What the hell is that?" Nico was off again, rolling on the ground holding his sides. It was clear from the way his body heaved that he was struggling to get air. His sallow skin flushed with warmth as he laughed and his onyx eyes softened when they opened.

Percy was laying next to him, snickering at his own misfortune. "It hurt." Which just sent Nico off for a third time.

When he finally pulled himself together, Nico went about answering the question the other hadn't even thought of asking. "It must be where the offerings come. Somewhere at camp or… another camp somewhere. The offerings burnt to the gods."

"Yeah, well, next time they should dump the soda into the fire not the god damn can. That's dangerous!"

Nico pushed himself into a sitting position eyes falling on the expanse of tan flesh of Percy's lower abdomen. He sat up not attempting to cover it but Nico's eyes cast away just as quickly. "Yeah, sorry. I'll try not to stretch your shirt out. Little small and all that."

"Don't worry. You can keep it. I have more."

Percy just imagined him with a whole closet of black tshirt somewhere. Rubbing at his head one more time, he bumped Nico's arm with his own. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Look… burger. And M&Ms."

That caught his attention like little else. Percy grabbed at the burger and before he could take a huge bite, glanced up at Nico's idle eyes. Closing his mouth, he held out the burger. "You want some? I mean, you didn't really eat any of that junk before. You've got to be starving."

"N-no. No, I'm okay."

"Come on, you have to eat something. I don't think I saw you eat since… you know… before…" the words died on his lips but they passed unspoken between them.

Before the last time you went to Tartarus.

Nico's fingers brushed his as he reached forward and took the burger from his hands. It even had a sesame and poppy seed bun. Talk about luxurious. Nico didn't rip his hand away like before but let the touch carry on just a second longer before grasping the burger and withdrawing. He took one bite, then a second and handed it back to Percy.

Using his hand, he wiped some ketchup and mustard from the side of his mouth and chewed. Despite his recent growth spurt he looked like a hamster packing food away in his cheeks. Percy simply chuckled and shared a smile with him; he nudged his foot against Nico's once more.

The son of Hades' rolled his eyes dismissively and waved his hand in the universal symbol for: get lost Percy fucking Jackson.

Percy accepted this as a white flag and then stuffed his mouth with actual digestible people food.

Bob returned and, much like Percy, shouted in glee. "M&M's! Bob loves M&M's! Please may I have?"

Nico handed them over without a second thought, trading them for a slice of orange that came sizzling out of the fire. He picked off the ring and sucked on the flesh slowly.

Popping a few of the chocolate candies into his mouth, Bob grinned is crooked (and semi frightening) smile. "Young demigods need sleep. Bob keeps watch. Will keep you safe."

Whether it was the bump in his head or the food in his stomach, Percy accepted this as a safe idea so he stretched out a few inches from Nico laying Riptide at his side.

When he turned his head, he caught Nico's cautious eyes considering him. He blinked a few times and without a word rolled over onto his side so he was facing the son of Hades and let himself relax.

Nico mirrored his motion and they laid there without a word, the son of Hades facing the fire and Percy with his back to it.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Seventeen

Night Terrors

Percy/Nico


 

 

Tears blurred his vision as he whipped his head around. Bodies were packed in tightly around him, jostling for their place, everyone traveling in their own direction. No one paid attention to someone so small; his head barely came to their chests. Locks the colour of night stuck to the side of his face, damp from his tears.

The masses kept moving and that was how he'd been separated in the first place. He'd let go of a hand and been carried away in a wave of people, the tide dragging him away from everything familiar. Then he'd lost sight of his mother and his tiny heart was hammering in his chest like a hummingbird's wings, a million beats a second. Snot dripped from his nose; he wiped both it and the tears from face with the sleeve of his coat.

Why couldn't anyone see him? He was right there.

But he had pulled shadows to him, too young to know what that even meant, and he stood alone in the middle of the crowd unobtrusive and indistinct. Sucking on his bottom lip and bunching his hands into fists to rub at his eyes, he sobbed unnoticed, because when he cried it was always muffled afraid of the sounds he might make if he allowed himself to be anything but voiceless.

A hand wrapped around his wrist and brown eyes met with kind familiar ones.

What are you so afraid of, little one?

Being alone.

 

Nothing made sense.

Nothing could ever make sense again. Not in this world and not in the next. Not in any world that could ever exist.

The sound of his feet slapping onto the stone floor—when had it turned to stone? It was earth just a few steps back, soft and squishy— created a cadence he could attempt to catch his breath to because for some reason his lungs didn't want to work. They were tight and spurned the air. He didn't need it. He didn't need anything. Or anyone.

So he ran.

The tunnels ahead coiled and curved and forked out before shooting up or plunging down, sometimes within feet of one the last. But he followed them, legs pumping as fast as they could but they were beginning to tire. Each foot was a lead weight and they pounded harder and harder onto the ground with his pace getting slower and slower.

But his mind was sprinting miles ahead of him and he didn't want his body to catch up because if it caught up it would have to understand. Or try to understand. And nothing made sense. It couldn't ever make sense.

Because Bianca was gone.

He couldn't see further than the hand placed on the wall in front of him, piloting around the dank corridors so he didn't run headfirst into a wall or something equally damaging. The dark had never bothered him before but it was impossible to tell if he was going in circles. Except that he had started counting steps after every turn he made and at number thirty two he tripped over a dip in the ground— just like step number thirty two of the last turn— and the turn before that.

Where was he going?

His shriek echoed down the corridor when he fell to his knees, crumpling in on himself like a napkin. He'd tugged at his hair and shouted until the earth around him shuddered.

Bianca was dead.

He was alone.

What are you so afraid of?

Being left behind.

Being lost.

 

Waves crashed around him but the flailing of his limbs wasn't enough to keep abreast. Now when the crests were whitecaps surging up and then crashing down on top of him. Each swell was taller than the last and with each he was dragged under just a little bit further and unable to surface just a teeny bit longer. His lungs were searing.

"Help! S-someone… H—" he'd broken the surface again but just as soon as he yelled he gaged down a lungful of salt water and despite the racking of his body and the hacks couldn't empty it. Because water was there again and his scenery was an ocean bed. Brightly coloured fish passed him, darting away from his dark presence. Below him multicoloured coral housed however many kind of sea critters dancing in out and out.

There was cold and then there was  cold . Pressure pinched at his head and pushed at his eyes. The arctic undercurrent froze his limbs— before his eyes they were becoming stone, too frozen to move.

Drifting down, he closed his dark eyes and searched with everything in him. Below water was earth and earth was his element but this sovereignty was not his own and the sand below was not subservient.

He could feel himself dying. Spots swam before his eyes and his heart was succumbing to sloth, toddling blood through his veins. When had he lost feeling in his toes? Or his feet? Or his legs and fingers and hands?

Bright green blue eyes filled his vision and recognition flooded through his veins; he was adrift in them instantly.

Lips struggled to form letters as the last of the bubbles left his lungs.

Can't you see?

He laughed.

What are you so afraid of?

I'm drowning.

 

The halls of the boarding school stretched out before him, empty. It was after hours and he was meant to be tucked away, secure in his bed in the room that he shared with five other boys. Curfew was a few hours passed and while they were meant to be sleeping they always waited for the sisters to make their rounds before popping heads out of their blankets and unearthing a flashlight. After all, bedtime was really just a suggested time. None of them were ever tired.

Gameboys were contraband but the five boys he roomed with each had one. They were tucked away and out they came for additional levels at night. Pokemon was the game of choice and Nico wasn't even sure what Pokemon were, never mind who Pikachu was.

That and he didn't have a gameboy.

That made it pretty difficult to socialise but he tried anyway. In fact, tonight he'd even made the alternative offer of Mythomagic because honestly it was the best game in the entire world. And once they learned how to play it, he was sure the other boys would love it.

The one boy, the older (by just a few months) and the tallest had looked at the cards and smiled in that mean way he had. For a moment, he actually thought the other was considering it. He'd stood before them wide eyed and hopeful sure that this night they would finally welcome him.

It had been a few months and the smaller boy had persisted through being ignored as all new kids are; being taunted because he was the scrawniest, shortest, had a tiny bit of a lisp (what with a front tooth missing), a heavy Italian accent, didn't understand any of their jokes, hadn't seen any of their movies, or listened to any of their music; being excluded when the teasing got tired; and then just then maybe he would finally be accepted for stomaching all of it without tattling.

But the cards fell at his feet in a heap, half of them crumpled or tagged. The older boy stomped on the cards, crushing them under his bare heel and locked eyes. "As if."

So he ran through the hallways looking for the girl's dormitory. He was going to get into so much trouble but he had to find Bianca. Had to speak with her. Clutching the crumpled cards to his chest.

His footsteps echoed down the hall.

What are you so afraid of, Nico?

Being different.

 

A cabin has been erected for his father's child(ren) but he still doesn't tend to visit. Maybe he could make a little bit more of an effort but seasons are slower below and Nico can pass whole months without seeing the world above without being any the wiser. If there was something, or someone, expecting his appearance it might be different. But nothing is and no one does.

After the Battle of Manhattan, campers were more inclined to speak with him and, for the first time in his life, he felt welcomed. An army of ghosts built a beautiful cabin so he could have his place amongst the other children of the gods when he visited. Being the only living heir he had certain responsibilities and so he spent time below training to be commander his father required.

Seasons passed and he returned.

Memories quickly slip and while there were still soft smiles, campers returned to their wider berth and in return a rift raised between them. Deeper and deeper day by day until he forgot they had once thought him a hero for his army of undead in the fight against Kronos.

There was one who still impersonated inclination.

The boy with the sea green eyes loped up beside him and they shared a smile. He said something and the boy said another and then he was touching his arm. Onyx eyes glanced down at the contact, wide and wondering. But the boy with the sea green eyes only smiled and something inside of him fluttered to life. Maybe that was his heart.

The boy was life, counterbalancing his dark. Polar opposites. When the boy leaned forward, he was a magnet and draw closer in. But the boy stopped moving and tugged away.

He wilted as the gaze grew cold and the boy's eyes raged into storms, the graze then a grapple and the smile a sneer. There was no more kindness left only laughter and the other campers huddled around laughing, all laughing, and it grew louder and louder.

Shameful.

What are you so afraid of?

Being found out.

 

Manhattan's skyline stretched before him just as it had on that day. The buildings stood damaged against a bleak horizon. Whatever light might have shone overhead was swallowed by the churning of clouds as they were summoned to the centre of the battlefield.

The earth quaked beneath their feet and the stress fractures formed in the pavement and as the undulations increased it shattered like glass and crumbled to dust. From the earth, hundreds of undead soldiers rose and fought against monsters and Titans alike, bony fingers tearing, especially at traitor demigod flesh. But that wasn't worth another thought.

The pressure dropped and then increased. Demigods of Camp Half Blood, those who were fighting on the side of the gods, were severely outnumbered but with a child each from the Big Three, the atmosphere was electric. The battled against impossible odds, pushing the forces of Kronos back.

Nico fought, Stygian sword in hand. He was the first to arrive in battle— though his relationship with camp was tenuous at best— others rallied soon after.

The city was divided, each legion protecting and advancing as they could though they were pushed back only able to guard the entrance to Olympus. And in the final moments, Percy called a hurricane. The winds picked up and the water swarmed and the ground shook— he was the son of the earth shaker.

And the son of the Underworld, leant his elemental skills and the ground convulsed. But in the final moments, Luke had no choice. There was no knife in the Achilles heel and there was no choice to make. The war waged and there was no conceding defeat between either of them though they tired, they crashed through buildings and flew through the air, an action movie in the works.

In the end it wasn't Kronos who defeated Percy Jackson but an ill fated fall. A fall onto the end of a ghost legionnaires sword right to the sweet spot at the small of Percy's back.

Blood bubbled from his lips and he gasped for breath.

Nico was by his side in a matter of seconds, hands shaking like the ground as the light went out of Percy Jackson's eyes.

A howl tore from his lips and the world exploded as the earth swallowed all of Manhattan.

What are you so afraid of?

Losing him.

 

Nico sat with his back pressed to a graphite wall. Bob stood before him busy with his broom as he swept a hall lit only by Greek fire. The Stygian sword was back in the young man's hands and he was turning his wrist over and over, a half hearted exercise of swordsmanship. Well, if one could consider it practice given he was sitting down.

"Tell me the story again. The one that I like about Styx."

There was a smirk playing at his lips but Nico's head dipped in a nod and he started telling it all over again. About Styx and how she loved so loyally and freely to one man that she was completely consumed. In the end she had known she was tempting the fates, playing with her own lifeline but when you promise yourself to someone it means forever not just right now. So she had kept her covenant and she was so consumed by the heat of her love— he was literally too bright— that she burned into nothing.

The river that was hers did not dry up but disappeared as few divine things can really be truly diminished. So she spent her years ethereal, always there, but without true form. And when the war came she vowed herself to fight on the side of the gods.

"But how could she make the pact?" Bob wondered out loud.

"Because she swore she would serve him with everything she had. And even though she couldn't do much in the way of fighting she persuaded her children Nike, Zelos, Bia and Kratos to fight as well. You know what they mean in English? Rivalry, Force, Strength and victory."

Then the gods were victorious and for her loyalty, Zeus restored her to her former power. Her river ran alongside her lover's and from that day everyone swore on her river the binding agreement because she was the definition of loyalty.

"Percy is that loyal. He'd sacrifice everything for one of his friends."

Bob smiled and closing the broom away in a closet, traded it for a mop bucket. Why he needed to mop in the underworld was beyond him but Nico didn't like to argue with the big guy. If it made him happy then so be it. Skeletons were always going to drag some grave soil in around the place so really it should just be left but— whatever.

"I used to be angry with him. I thought he was a liar but then I realised… you can't be resentful if they can't keep a promise that wasn't theirs in the first place. H-he… he couldn't keep Bianca safe because that was up to her. It wasn't his promise to make."

The silver haired Titan nodded like it was a conversation that they had had before. Telling tales and speaking about Bianca or life.

"Will he come to visit us? At home, I mean."

Dark eyes ringed with violet bags met with quicksilver ones and the child of Hades just laughed. Dropping the dark blade, he gave a quirk of the lips that might have been a smile but was more likely a frown in disguise. The clatter echoed through the otherwise empty hallway.

"He's a very good friend, Bob. He always asks about you, he really does. But he's a hero. A real hero, the kind they write about in books. And a hero like that, well, he doesn't have a lot of time, you know? He wishes he does but he doesn't. I-I… I don't think he'll be visiting us down here. I'm very sorry."

Bob nodded, not for the first time.

"Why do you sound sad? Always with sadness when speaking about friend Percy. I'm sure he would like for you to visit!" The Titan clapped his hands together like the idea was genius. Nico smiled and gave a bob of his head in silent agreement again.

"Yeah… yeah, I'm sure I'll do that. But for now, I'll just stay down here with you. You'd get bored without me." Picking up a piece of the grave soil from where he'd hid it behind his back, he chucked it at Bob's freshly cleaned floor. The Titan's eyes glowed briefly but then he laughed and kicked the tiny clod back at the young demigod.

"You're as loyal as he is, Bob. I hope I can be like you both some day."

His eyes were dark and sad. Bob turned away and his shoulders sank.

What are you so afraid of?

That I'm just as worthless as they all think.

I won't grow up to be a hero like him.

That loyalty won't matter because no one will see mine in the end.

 

 

Green eyes flew open. Nico was laying in front of him. At some point while he was sleeping, the younger boy had inched forward or the son of the sea had scooted further away from the green fire in the hearth. Either way his hand was laid across Nico's and the son of Hades had clung onto the limb for life.

His breathing was coming slowly and the years had melted from his face while he slept. The violet bags under his eyes looked less heavy. Somewhere outside Bob paroled the perimeter; Percy could hear his footsteps as he circled around letting the two boys rest.

Demigod dreams were never normal but that… his body was shaking. Percy was covered in a film of sweat and his heart was pumping in his chest but it felt strained. Like something was constricting inside of him but he wasn't too certain what.

What the hell was that?

The boy in front of him slept fitfully, his breath hitching in his throat and little grumbles escaping past his lips. He looked younger and that… whatever that was… it was like seeing Nico for the first time.

There was more to the child of Hades than he'd given credit for.

With his free hand, he reached across the distance between them and brushed his fingers through his hair.

Instead of pulling his hand away, Percy weaved their fingers together and let him hold on tight.

If anyone deserved a break, it was him.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Eighteen

Earth and Wisdom

Hazel


 

 

The last few days sucked.

Sucked as in they were honestly agonising. One obstruction after another had throw itself in their path and the time ticked away for the deadline. Gaea was rising and the Romans were closing in on Camp Half Blood. A civil war and a world war on tether hooks waiting for a handful of underage demigods to prove their worth.

They were the kind of harrowing that left her bone tired and and ready to be a cliche to her father's name and sleep like the dead. The rose-tinted glasses were lost somewhere along the way and Hazel wanted a few simple things: peace and quiet, a bit of rest, maybe some thanks, and some homemade gumbo (because the cornucopia never got it completely right and the cornbread just didn't compared to fried up nice like her mom used to make).

Were they closer to the doors of death? Yes, but they still didn't have an exact location of where the entrance was and with each hour passing the tension became more tangible. Everyone was becoming fretful about whether or not they would actually figure it out in time.

Hazel couldn't blame them. As the daughter of Pluto she was expected to feel them out and while she was sure they were going in the correct direction, she wasn't positive.

Was the group becoming more skilled in their own abilities and faith in one another? Yes, but each came with a price. A price that included Hazel acquiring the world's most malodorous ferret, Hazel being poisoned and then turned into a plant— really, she just hadn't been able to win that one but apparently being a daughter of Pluto made her as amiable as a drought to Triptolemus, and Hazel having to get up close and personal with the world's most fetid feet.

Sure, by the end of it she had pretty much mastered the art of mist under extreme duress but that didn't mean she was ready to go about fooling the Gods all higgledy-piggledy; it didn't work that way.

Then her father flippantly springs from the ground and spouts out the missing piece to the puzzle: the exact location of the doors of death. No hi, how are you doing, Hazel? Nice to meet you formally. How's being alive once more treating you? Things are a bit different, aren't they? Or even how's training? What about those newfound powers? Or even something normal like who is that boy and are you going to invite him to dinner? Because if you're not going to invite him for dinner he's not the type of boy that you should be seeing in the first place.

Really! Stumped and startled didn't even begin to bridge the world's weirdest father-daughter relationship.

But at least they had a direction; there was always that. Somewhere to go with the time ticking away second by second. Before he had left, though, Pluto had rested a hand on his daughter's shoulder and it had chilled her to her very core. Part of her— a very real part— felt missing or silent despite the stirring in her gut.

"Be cautious, my daughter. The Goddess you seek, she will assist you, but the abetment you request may not be what you reap." The corners of his lips turned up just slightly but the sober angle of his brow and impassive tilt of his head unsettled her further. His skin stood out against hers, so different in coloration and yet there were distinct characteristics she could see as her own. "Please remember that you are my daughter and our plight is not an easy one. In the end, you must do what is required of you above all else, no matter how wearied the heart."

Hazel nodded, solemn in her motion.

Just as quickly he'd summoned shadows to him and vanished in her wake. The dull look in the other's eyes told her they were no more aware of his brief audience than Sciron was aware of his defeat until he was chomped by his gargantuan pet turtle.

Back on the Argo II she called together everyone for a meeting. Being the centre of attention wasn't something she particularly enjoyed but she stood with renewed purpose before everyone.

"I know where we're going."

The group of teenagers— and an ageing satyre— fell silent but only for a few seconds.

"What!?"

"Where?"

"Bring it on! I'm ready to clobber some monsters. Death, hah! It doesn't scare me. Lemme at it!"

"Where exactly did you find this information?" Annabeth voiced, the last to make herself know. What excitement had been rippling through the crowd— after all, it was one of the only big breaks they'd had on the whole quest— flickered and fizzled.

Oh come on. Really?

Not that she was ashamed. Not in the least. But she couldn't shake the feeling that there were some among them who wouldn't accept her father's contribution as believable.

"Pluto appeared before me. After Sciron fell and the massive tortus thing swallowed him… he came to congratulate me. My powers have grown, he could feel them. But he also brought a warning and help." Dark eyes scanned the crowd— they weren't as adamantine as Nico's but she knew there was a strength there that had grown with every obstacle she had faced since boarding the Argo II.

"We must go on this quest for Styx, just as Piper said, and she will help Percy and Nico." Hazel locked eyes with the daughter of Athena, brown fixing blue, and did not falter. "She will help them, but the help she will provide may not be everything that we hope. And so we cannot interfere. Something is going to go wrong and… and it will be up to me, then. I'm not sure what but something big will become my responsibility."

"Why is he getting involved all of a sudden? He's never shown you any favour."

The words cut through Hazel's resolve like acid. As soon as they left Annabeth's mouth, the older half blood wilted.

She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by Piper. "Be quiet, Annabeth!" She fumed, the look in her eyes cold and distance. The blonde clamped her hand over her mouth looking equally fearful of Aphrodite's daughter and remorseful to Pluto's daughter. There were apologies in her blue eyes when they sought out Hazel's but she was surged with cold rage, a temper inherited from her godly parent, a source she'd not previously tapped.

"Whatever you may think of him, he doesn't want Gaea to wake. And he certainly doesn't want to see the world brought to its knees. I know some of you don't have much respect for death but there is a natural order to things that you cannot mess with, and he is the definition and overseer of this order. Now I'm not saying he's going to win any father of the year awards but we will find the doors in Epirus."

"Epirus… isn't that—"

"Yes. In the temple to Hades, the Necromanteion. The doors have been tethered there."

"Wow, they have a really lame sense of humour. I'm just saying. Wow, big surprise! They could have changed it up a little. But… I mean… she is like the earth mother. Guess her humour is a little dry." Leo paused.

Coach Hedge bleated. Everyone else just gaped at him.

"Fine, whatever. At least the goat man gets it."

"I got it, too." Frank clapped the other boy on the shoulder and gave a smile. It managed to look more menacing without meaning but the extra bulk his father had blessed him with was still a little startling— even to Hazel.

Leo withered but attempted a grin in return.

"So that's where we're heading." The Roman demigod, motioned for Leo who immediately understood and climbed up to the mast and set their course.

Jumping down from the box she'd been using as her podium, she gravitated to her boyfriend and slipped her hand into his much larger one. The strength in the muscles beneath his skin was different, but she found new appreciation for the safety she always felt when she was with him.

"Epirus via Croatia. Man, if only we got frequently flyer miles. Maybe the big guy could hook us up." Leo waggled his eyebrows at his friend.

"Yeah, lemme have a quick chat. I'm sure we could hook that up." Jason rolled his eyes but the smile on his face was bright.

"There's just one last thing," Piper chimed in. Looking between her friends, she shrugged a shoulder. Apparently there was just one last thing they hadn't really thought of and she was about to be the bearer of the news.

"Not all of us can go after the sceptre in Croatia. We're going to need to decide who goes."

"Rock, paper, scissor?" Frank offered.

"Straws?"

"When I was just a young satyre, we would arm wrestle with a bed of nails on either side of us. Let's just say winner got glory and loser," he made a swift motion with one finger slicing across his neck.

Piper's eyes were huge as she stared at him mouth open. How she could still be remotely surprised by any of the things that left his mouth, Hazel didn't know. She'd only known him for a fraction of the time and she'd come to accept it.

"Yeah… let's not try that. I think we all need to be as close to 100% as possible. Doors of death and all."

Coach Hedge waved his hand like this was an acceptable answer but still grumbled about the poor constitution of today's demigods— it was a wonder the world hadn't crumbled already.

"I'll go." Annabeth volunteered immediately. "If it's going to help Percy…"

"And Nico," Hazel bit back. "I'm going as well."

The air between them was palpable but the daughter of Wisdom conceded. She wasn't completely oblivious that it might have something to do with the proximity of Piper as she put distance between them as soon as she realised how close they were standing.

"Considering he's my sort-of sibling, I think I should go. After all, children of love and all that." Piper volunteered. "Maybe we can reach some kind of mutual understanding. And this feels like an all girls trip."

"I don't know… I'm sure Jason really wants to go. It's all those goopy feeling and puppy dog eyes," Leo tease.

"Careful or I'll tell you all about my goopy feelings. At length. In complete detail."

Leo's eyes widened and he threw his hands up as if to shield himself. "Nooo! Anything but that! Please, pluck out my eyes. B-but please… no feelings!"

The boy's grinned letting whatever tension present just seconds before drift away.

Hazel knew exactly how they were feeling: they finally had a plan.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Nineteen

Tryptic

Jason


 

"I can't go with her. You know that I can't. Not after earlier, not when she's…"

"It was an accident. Listen, I don't know exactly what happened between the two of you but we need this. You of all people ono—"

"You're not listening! No one is listening! I'm not over reacting. I just can't go there with her and I don't think… honestly, I don't think that she's the right fit for this mission."

"Just because you two had a disagreement or something doesn't mean—"

"It was not a disagreement. You saw her. Maybe it's being close to the ancient lands or maybe it's the stress of the whole situation building but she's losing control. Her powers are stronger than she is at the moment… don't look at me that way, you know that it's true. You've seen it. You've felt it. They're growing and they're not being controlled. Follow me, Grace?" She threw her hands out hoping that the former praetor would see sense.

First she lifted one hand and dropped it before repeating the action with the other, mimicking a scale. "There are two reasons for this: she either can't or she won't. Don't ask me to break down for you all the ways that could get someone killed."

They were sat on deck— it had started raining so everyone else had retreated below. Annabeth, though, had grabbed onto the son of Jupiter and requested to have a word with him about tactics. Issues she and Piper were having were immediately put aside— as much as he might wish to remain neutral, he couldn't say no to even a mini war council. The legion was all about procedure and stratagem.

Jason dropped his face into his hands and took a deep breath. The blonde locks had started to grow out, not the tidy cut preferred by the legion; he was starting to look more Greek every day. "I follow you," he finally responded.

Whatever answer he gave was not going to be satisfactory to someone. "Are you positive, Annabeth? Two hundred percent? Because if I do this… personal reasons aside now… but if I do this, there are a lot of people who aren't going to be happy with me. Especially not after your incident."

Annabeth stood before him, arms hugged to her body waiting for his reply. Her head bowed slightly conceding his point. So that's what it was now referred to. After Percy had fallen there had been an incident wherein she had been unconsolable and fanatical. "Three hundred percent. You saw the look on her face, Jason. I couldn't breathe… she wouldn't let me. I'm not saying she did it on purpose, I'm rational enough to know that. But what she means and what she is capable of doing right now… is it worth it? With Hazel and I going down there… she's not going to charmspeak the sceptre from him."

She dropped down in front of where Jason sat, crouching before him. Her grey eyes met with ones the colour of the sky and held on tight. There was something in them, strong and imperial like Percy's but not in the daring and prevocational way that landed the other demigod into trouble more times than it landed him in good. Cousins though they all were, technically, none of them really looked alike. There were a few defining characteristics that half siblings from the same godly parent might share— shape of their eyes, slope of their nose, curvature of their mouth, length and leanness of their muscles— but the likeness wasn't the likeness of some not-quite relation. Maybe Jason hadn't held the weight of the world solely on his shoulders but he had the look of someone who would understand sharing it.

"It can't be her, Jason." Annabeth pushed.

The second that he yielded, she saw it in those same eyes blinking once, twice, thrice and then the minor inclination of the head.

"Okay. It can't be her. We'll be there soon but if it's not her then it has to be someone else."

For the first time since the son of Poseidon had fallen into the pit with Nico di Angelo at his side, she reached out and grasped someone. Her fingers closed around his bicep and she gave a reassuring squeeze.

"Diocletian was the last demigod ruler of Rome, Jason. And you know just as well as I do whose son he was."

"Jupiter." That one word sealed the decision like wax on a an envelope. He sat up a little bit straighter and regained the posture the Roman legions were famous for— powerful and contained. "We're arriving in Croatia soon. I need to go speak with her." The son of the sky god stood and scratched at the back of his neck when he turned back around to cast a secondary look to Annabeth.

Give him ghosts, monsters, angry satyrs, hungry cyclopses, pissed off goes any day. What he was going to face was a thousand, no, a million times worse. "Are you sure you don't want to be the one to tell her?"

Annabeth stood before him blinking.

"Yeah… no. I didn't think so. Hopefully I come back from this alive otherwise you'll have to find another idiot to take her place."

 

--------

 

After that, Jason's afternoon became really interesting. The fight he had with Piper was prodigious— the fact that she had managed to restrain herself enough not to throw a chair at his head was the highlight. She had had a million choice words to share with him, the latter half which had resulted in him fighting against kneeling on the floor before her, holding his stomach because he was sure he was going to be violently ill. The way his insides twisted wasn't natural like they were physically knotting in on themselves.

At that point she'd started crying and forgive him. Piper apologised and agreed that maybe she should sit this mission out— she was exhausted after all. Maybe some rest would do her good, especially with the upcoming battle with Gaea and whatever awaited for them at the Doors of Death because that wouldn't be pretty either.

Jason extricated himself from the position of supplication at her feet and had nodded before leaving the room.

Following the fight was breaking the news to Hazel who, fortunately, took this far better than Piper. This was much more easily explained with a tale of exhaustion and maybe she'd been more effected by seeing Percy and Nico fall than she'd let on. The look in the child of Pluto's eyes was one of compliance but the look on her face read 'save it, Grace. We'll be having a chat about this later.' Later was fine as long as it wasn't right then.

Then they arrived in Croatia, wandered around a beautiful city never having the chance to enjoy getting lost between Annabeth's memorising of a local map and Hazels' ability to feel the streets (and Jason might not have minded getting lost for awhile just so he could clear his head of all the shit that was happening), and then they discovered an oversized Angel with a really poor fashion sense enjoying some of the local ice cream.

"Is that really…"

"An Angel," Annabeth supplied for Hazel. "There are less towardly things."

"An Angel. That's a nice change. Somehow I pictured them differently."

"You mean without the rooster wings," Jason supplied. "Somehow a Rhode Island Red wasn't exactly what I had in mind when my mom bothered to drag me to church."

Hazel's face pinched in the way only a girl born during her time period could, looking both displeased with the language and amused at the same time. "Well, yes."

"He's seen us and… wait… is he actually waiving us over?" Annabeth stalked forward edging around the crowds in the streets and on the sidewalks. It was a beautiful area filled with various vendors peddling their goods and while she did not cut a straight line, she was both cautious and predatory. Jason had to admire that about her: a tenacious daughter of Athena and unflinching.

The younger demigods followed after attempting to maintain the same air as she, on the hunt without alerting their prey by occasionally glancing at goods being sold and speaking with the vendors for five seconds before turning attention else where. Only one or two grumbled in their language unhappy with foreigners touching their goods but clearly not having money or inkling to buy them.

A crowd passed by then and Annabeth attempted to push through but she wasn't large enough to have much effect and was carried away a few feet by the taller gentlemen laughing and shouting as they went. When she untangled herself and bolted forward back in the direction of their neighbourhood Angel, he was gone.

"What! He was just there. Where did he go?"

Jason couldn't help but laugh when the first place she glanced was up.

"I would have done the same thing," Hazel defended holding onto Annabeth's arm. Apparently glancing skyward was just as likely a direction as any and yet the image of a rooster angel man just cracked him up. Maybe Jason Grace was losing it but if that turned out to be some kind of monster man or enemy elite he was fairly certain he was going to have to suppress a case of the hysterical giggles whilst wielding his sword. For a split second he indulged in the thought wondering who was the first demigod to go completely off the rails.

"Last place I saw him was over there," Jason waved toward the ice cream truck unmoving at the side of a square. It was hot and it had been a long day so he reached into his pocket and produced some local currency and bought an ice cream cone.

"You have got to be kidding me."

"It's hot. Don't pretend you aren't hungry."

Shooting a withering stare in his direction, she accepted the fast melting cone and sucked some of the liquid off the side before chowing down. Hazel accepted with far less protest.

Then he felt it. A warm wind but not like a breeze, natural and flowing, but one that was created by a presence. Much like he had felt with Boreas, but tropical and zoetic— Jason immediately turned his attention and took over tracking.

The other two demigods followed behind him quickly unsure but unspeaking, not wanting to break his concentration as they stalked their angel. "He can't really be an angel. I mean… could he?" The daughter of the Underworld whispered.

"I guess it's not any more strange than satyrs or fawns or the gods themselves, is it?" Annabeth whispered in her ear, staying close behind.

"Yeah but angels?" Hazel's curls fell across her sticky forehead as she shook her head. It was a weird idea to entertain.

Around the boulevard, down an alley and further into the city they traveled on the trail of the warm zephyr. The closer the trio edged on the vicinity of their target, the more tangible the trail became. It was like seeing warm lines painted in the air, signs that showed him what direction to pass across the roads and behind buildings. Blue eyes were sharp, aware of any danger they might encounter but oddly enough there were none.

What that said about where they were heading, he didn't know.

Probably right into a trap. Hasn't that been how this whole trek has been going from day one? Fortunately, I'm sure the girls and myself could use an outlet. Especially the girls… on second thought I kind of pity whoever we come in contact with today.

That steeled his resolve further. They were strong warriors he had at his side and whatever they faced— Eros or Cupid or some demonic hybrid from the depths of Tartarus— they would be valiant.

He was glad once more Piper had remained on board the Argo II; his gut tangled and gnarled like the roots of a tree, doleful that he could not pretend his resolve in her was unshakeable, or that she herself was steadfast.

So many things were changing.

Then he spotted it. Up ahead, it was like a fortress rising dark and daunting in the sky in a way that commanded reverence; Jason was happy to give it.

"That's it," wisdom's daughter's voice was firm and eager.

Remember, she has her own wants as well.

The palace before them was breathtaking in the way only something so pivotal to history can be— there a leader had lived, a nation had thrived, a people had risen and flourished and declined. Sure, it was putting a lot on just a place but Jason could feel the tug in the air, gravitating toward what he could only think of as a birthright.

"How are we going to get in? I can't see anywhere to enter except… well, I guess as tourists? Over there?" Hazel pointed out to them a few blocks down a large crowd of people waiting their turn to pay and push through turnstiles and be lead on a guided tour.

A zig zag of motion caught his eyes, russet feathers bustling in and out of view a few floors up. The problem? It was decidedly out of the way of the tourist group, and it was looking magnificent if a little decrepit— probably not completely safe to waltz around.

Annabeth launched into analyst mode and proposed scavenging the street for a handful of objects she had seen on the way over that could possibly be crafted into some kind of device— Jason interrupted her mid thought.

"Or I could fly us up," the son of the sky offered.

Steel orbs bonded with his own, unblinking, and for a split second Jason felt a tremble but not of his limbs. Inside. When she broke contact her voice was unwavering.

"I suppose that saves time," was probably the closest the daughter of wisdom was going to bestow upon a son of a deity who had control over elements (funny enough since he just assumed that she praised Percy for the same thing).

"It will be easier if you both hold on."

Slipping his arms around Annabeth, her body as pressed flush to his on his left side, Hazel to his right but where Annabeth turned in, the child of Pluto shied away holding only so much as was necessary. Up they flew, landing on a ledge a few seconds later. If the tourists noticed anything, he couldn't tell the difference. None of them were looking upwards save for a small boy but he could have seen anything.

Hazel laced her fingers together and touched the stone of the building, gliding her hands over it as if she were casually touching an old friend.

Maybe she is.

After all, she had been dead. Maybe this place held some kind of meaning.

"So much has changed," her voice was soft, just above a whisper and hoarse. "It doesn't sit well. These structures… they held such different intentions but they've been repurposed." Tip toeing further, Hazel's touch to the building was firm, feeling every little crevice in the building. The older demigods stood unmoving, watching her at work.

Maybe it was something to do with her power of wealth— finding minerals or jewels or unique combinations that could bring for riches— but whatever she was feeling was directly related to Diocletian's palace.

"Everything is wrong. The building feels it… the spirits feel it… be careful. He won't be happy." She turned to face them and for the first time, Jason recognised a dark aura about her that intimated her relation (however small) to Nico. Her voice was grave but she pointed and continued, "there's a staircase over here. We go down."

Of course we go down. We always go down and under.

Whatever hesitancy the son of the sky felt towards going underground, he refused to show. The slight quake of his hand was steadied when he pressed it to his side. And he inhaled and exhaled and reminded himself that the walls did not move, they could not close in. Just because he had nearly died quite a few times under a city similarly (nearly drowning while the son of the sea was impotent and paralysed to the same fate being only one of the times).

Taking a torch from inside the building, they headed down into the depths, all the while Jason prayed that Gaea slumbered.

Because the walls could move and the ceiling could fall.

The ground could swallow them all.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty

The Face of Love Pt 1

Jason


 

Light faded and footsteps echoed as the trio corkscrewed down the staircase. They left the summer behind, trading it instead for the dank and dark of below. Gladius drawn, Jason passed under limestone archways casting his glance back and forth ready for danger from any direction and, realistically, expecting that if it came it would be from more than one direction.

Annabeth and Hazel were hugged to either side, but only one had her weapon drawn and at the read— apparently Hazel didn't feel quite so awkward with the whole underground thing. If anything, her face was calm and complacent, studying the tunnels that they traveled.

"It's beautiful," the daughter of wisdom whispered, running her fingers over the dewy wall. Fingertips rubbed back together and she brought them to her nose to give a tentative sniff before tilting her head as if she knew what had happened all along. "Limestones. They used to be separate but building on top of everything, shutting it all away… it's too moist down here. See, they've fused together? It only looks like a cave because of what time has done to it but this is magnificent."

The son of Jupiter and his friends might be walking into all kinds of bad ideas but Jason couldn't remember the last time someone took a second to just be plauditory or even moved by something. The look in Annabeth's eyes was electric and her blonde hair, frizzed from the damp was curling in wisps around her face like clouds.

"It is." He and Hazel agreed.

The further they travelled the smaller the archways became and the walls pressed in around them. It wasn't claustrophobic but it ground Jason's comfort zone down, boxing it up and storing it away.

Rather than struggle with an inner monologue— which Piper would have insisted he was good at what with all the natural 'brooding' he'd inherited from his father— he just blurted out, "Angels belong up in the sky. What is this thing doing?"

Jason's frustration surprised himself, but neither of the girls perked up with alarm; that was the thing about racing against the clock to stop the earthen goddess from razing the world— it tended to drain you. He loosened his grip on his gladius letting the blood flow return to normal.

"I have no idea. But he's not an actual angel… not like the Judaeo-Christian Sunday school kind anyway. Be a bit strange for him to be showing up here if he was," Hazel waved her hand around in an exaggerated motion and it reminded him that while she was younger than him she was born decades prior. "I mean all of these things have been repurposed when Christianity rose and that gives this place a clumsy aura. You know like it doesn't quite fit in and of itself so an angel here…" She shook her head, dark curls bouncing around her face. "At least he's not like a ghost. I know that's Nico's realm," her voice clenched at the name, "but I'd be able to tell, too." Hazel chewed at her full bottom lip but relaxed a little when Jason gave her arm a reassuring squeeze.

"So the giant rooster man isn't an angel. That leaves minor deity or monster and given the lack of teeth attempting to sink into our necks, I'm inclined to think it's the first." Annabeth continued to trail her fingertips along the wall as if looking for something unseen.

If there was something there to be found, the son of Jupiter felt confident that she would be the one to discover it.

"Come on. This way."

"You have no idea where you're going, do you," Annabeth piped up all kinds of helpful.

"Like any of us ever do?"

"That's a fairly good point, actually. Carry on."

Winding through passageways, Jason attempted to shake off the feeling seeping into his bones, the dank chill permeating the room. Ahead of them, something caught the light of the flashlight he was carrying— provided by Leo before they left, just in case. Brows furrowing, he inched forward until he was face to face with a life size bust of Diocletian.

Life size and very life like.

And just like the rest of the passage, it hadn't been spared the test of time or its chilly confines. The eyes seemed to follow him no matter what was he turned the flashlight and it had to just be a trick of his mind or of the lighting but it was seriously creepy. Creepy like the kind where the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end and disquiet drifted her fingers up his spine.

"How very… handsome," Annabeth added belatedly, choosing her words cautiously. Better safe than sorry in case someone else was listening.

Running his fingers over it, he nodded only half paying attention.

Here, his mind told him. Here is as good a spot as any. She'll think to find it here.

The note in his pocket burned with imagined weight. It was a note he hadn't been able to mention to anyone as of yet for fear of upsetting his girlfriend. The daughter of Aphrodite had been frantic enough about being swapped out on the mission and Jason just couldn't add insult to her injury by rubbing salt in wounds past.

Sliding it from his pocket, it disappeared just to the side of the bust.

"Who's that for?" Steel eyes ever watching, Annabeth sidled up next to him blocking his motions from Hazel. Whatever he was doing and why it may need to be hidden, she understood without asking protecting his actions from being discovered by Hazel. Intuition was certainly part of wisdom but the son of the sky hadn't expected it to be so obviously manifested.

"Reyna. She'll stop here, I know that she will. She's had the dreams same as me… I just know it from how it feels— like before. Like at Camp Jupiter. And there have been some… some that we're both in and we've… spoken. I haven't told anyone because it's slippery ground but we need her." Desperation pierced his voice, the words falling like rain breaking free from the sky and Annabeth didn't reach for any kind of umbrella.

Closing her hand over his, she pushed the note a little further behind the limestone bust and nodded just the once, fast and curt. "I know. The Athena Parthenos needs to be brought to camp by a Roman— and we can't afford to lose you, too. She'll find it here, now come on before Hazel sees. Just because I get it doesn't mean that Piper will and, well, Hazel is her friend. Part of the girl code is full disclosure— I never really understood that in the face of death and quests but I certainly didn't create it."

A weight lifted from his chest, one he didn't realise had been sitting there pressing harder and harder each step they'd taken below ground. Annabeth smiled at him and he felt an unfurling in his stomach— some of the tension that had been growing there left.

"I'm sure it would've been more logical if you had."

The laugh that left her was nearly a bark, completely unexpected as her shoulders shook. Slapping her hand over her mouth, she nodded and continued forward putting distance between their secret location. "You could count on that."

The daughter of Pluto, who had been busy investigating another one of the busts let out a shriek. Dashing to her side, Jason had his gladius at the ready, crouching into a defensive move. The limestone bust fell to the floor and shattered, another relic of Diocletian's reign ruined but considering there was a seven foot chicken man standing before the young demigod, it was understandable how she could have been caught off guard.

"Well that's rather rude, don't you think? Do you always enter someone else's home and deface everything?"

Red wings spread out behind him and Jason felt pretty accurate in his thought of a Rhode Island Red but that's more or less where the similarities stopped. On his feet he wore sandals, his skin was tanned and his hair curled every which way, even in the silent tunnels it looked to be parted by the wind. As he stood, he flicked his wrist sending a bronze hoop up into the air— he caught it a moment later snatching it with nimble fingers. At his feet lay a basket of fruit that would give even Piper's cornucopia a run for its money.

"I-i don't! But normally no one sneaks up and startles me either!"

Scratching at his chin, he leaned on the empty pedestal where the bust had rested only moments before. "Startling… hmmm, I don't know about that. Startling? Maybe startlingly handsome, yes, I could work with that. Frequently used adjectives gravitate toward personable, stylish, bewitching, suave, tantalising, oh, yes, stately! That's quite a good one." Clapping his hands together, the words prattled out. "Or even virile… but wait, are you over eighteen? That's not really appropriate if you're not, ages of consent changing as they are and all, you understand…"

Annabeth held up both her hands and shook her head looking just slightly queasy. "Uh, all under age. Definitely under age." Jason noted the part where she very definitely left out how she would be eighteen shortly and for once he was happy for such a glaring omission.

"Oh, well then, I suppose it's more suitable for you to call me by any of the other aforementioned descriptions. But startling, I leave that crass behaviour to my distance relatives."

The three demigods, now huddled together, stood and blinked.

A handful of seconds passed and the minor deity blanched before them.

"Really, Jason Grace, really? Not even… how about now?" The god turned with the bronze hoop in his hand and flexed his muscles, showing off a different pose. When there was no recognition apparent on his face he attempted another position and another from various angles until the wind seemed to go right out of his sails. "I don't understand what all this hullabaloo about you, is. Think you'd recognise me of all people!"

He scratched at the back of his neck and did his best to summon something other than confusion— he hoped that going for remorseful would buy some a little forgiveness.

Sighing, the chicken man tossed the bronze ring up into the air again and snatched it a moment later. "Favonius, the West Wind. Nice to meet you, all. Or Zephyros, depending if you're feeling particularly Greek."

Hazel, sword at the ready just as the legion had taught her, dropped her arm slightly opening up her stance. "Wait— are you not having issues with both?"

The bronze ring flew up into the air once more and one wing comically fluttered as he rose and dropped a shoulder in a shrug. "Not particularly. Benefit of not differing greatly between the two. But, anyway, as much as I'd love to stand around and chat about myself, I know that's not why you've come."

"You lead us to Dicoletian's sarcophagus."

"Why, yes, I did. Kind of me, wouldn't you say? Not at all like those blustering buffoons from the north," the word rolled off his tongue laced with venom.

"It's not here," Hazel piped up. "That's what you wanted to show us, isn't it?"

As unwise as it was, Jason turned to face the daughter of Pluto.

"What do you mean it's not here?"

"Diocletian's ghost. His sceptre. None of it's here, Jason. I-I… I can't feel any of it. There's a shadow, like a memory. It was here but it's been gone for a long time." Sucking on her bottom lip, eyes wide and brimming with moisture, she reached out for his hand and took it in her own though it wasn't clear if it was for her own comfort or to reassure him.

"She's right you know," he cawed, laughing lightly.

"What once rested here slumbers here no longer. The sarcophagus was moved by the Christian's and destroyed by others; and you won't commune with the great Roman leader. The sceptre is with my master and should you wish to earn its possession, you'll have to face him."

"Your master?" Annabeth was trembling but not from fear. Her eyes were steely and resolute, and her pale face soiled with dirt was dauntless.

"Eros— cupid. The god of love will look forward to your facing him, each of you. Especially you, Jason Grace."

How bad could it be? He wondered. If it will get us the sceptre and help save Nico and Percy… it has to be done.

Besides, facing the god of love seemed a hell of a lot less scary than about half the things they'd faced so far.

"Take us to cupid," Annabeth said.

The children of Pluto, Jupiter and Athena took hands and dissolved into air but not before noting the devilment on Favonius' face.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty

The Face of Love Pt 2

Jason


 

The children of the gods fell to their knees when their bodies reformed, set down in an abandoned and partially excavated Roman town in Dalmatia. Zephyros chortled before them watching as they struggled to their feet.

He warned them, eyes zero'ing in on Annabeth, not to be so naive in their envisioning of cupid. Everyone had the wrong idea, he said, and it was never so simple. Love was never so simple; he locked onto Jason as the word's slipped past his lips.

Then he told them a story of Hyacinthus, his beloved, and the trespassing of Apollo. It only took a few moments to realise the story was not, in fact, about a woman. His eyes stayed particularly focused on Hazel which was particularly confusing to Jason but maybe it was because she came from another era and the story was more likely to shock her.

He left them just as quickly as he came in a gust of wind and a ruffle of feathers.

That's when the wind started, a whirlwind around then tugging at their hair and clawing at their eyes. Jason could feel the movement just as he could see it, but it was fast and only caught it out of the corner of his eye. Lifting his gladius, he held it though he didn't feel as though he'd swing it.

"Where are you?"

Where you least expect me.

Annabeth shouted as a strand of her hair was ripped to the side. Growling, she lunged toward the spot but whatever had been there a moment prior vacated immediately. She met nothing but space and nearly pitched forward.

As I always am, he continued but the voice echoing in his head bubbled with laughter. The tacky Valentine's day image of a chubby cherub in diapers with hearts for eyes was immediately wiped from his mind.

"Come here, you coward!"

Oh, Jason Grace, you know better. After all, you've found true love. Or do you doubt yourself?

"Of course he doesn't," Hazel shouted, lifting a hand to protect her eyes from the dust and the particles whipping around before them.

Jason fell at that moment, a collision of some unseen force with his stomach knocked all the air from his lungs. He landed on one knee, and held his stomach for a few long seconds as he struggled to fill his lungs. Spots danced at the corners of his vision and Annabeth rushed forward, crouching at his side.

"Are you alright?" She murmured but the words were blown away just as swiftly by the bluster.

"That's not fair!" Hazel shouted holding her sword up higher but without an enemy to fight against it was futile.

You expect me to be fair!? Love is never fair! He boomed, the internal volume increasing the pressure in Jason's cranium and he was definitely on his way to migraine town on top of struggling to get his breath.

"If you have something to say… it might be worth saying," she whispered as she hoisted him up by his elbow, helping the son of Jupiter to find his footing once more.

This time, he senses were on high alert when he felt the air disturbed next to him. An arrow was flying straight toward Annabeth's chest but he intercepted it, and it tore into his flesh piercing his heart. For a moment he stood there gasping, clutched at the shaft protruding from his chest; his heart sped up pumping faster and faster in his chest but blood didn't spill forward.

Hazel rushed to his side as well, trying to find where the damage was but finding none.

Annabeth, eyes hardened, stood tall with her dagger in hand. "We just want the sceptre! Give it to us. We've done you no hard. You know why we need it— she said that you did!"

Ah, Styx. Yes, I know why you need it better than you. And would you still want it, child of Wisdom, if you knew which hero would make it back? And which wouldn't?

The words froze the air around them. It was the first time that a god had actually implied that one of the two boys wouldn't be coming back. The finality in his voice shook the ground on which she stood. Annabeth clutched her own heart, though no arrow pierced the skin. Her eyes dissolved, brimming with tears.

"No," she choked. "No no no, you can't… you can't say that."

Love is nothing without sacrifices and who do you think would sacrifice themselves to save the other? To ensure that one returned home?

"Shut up!" Annabeth was on her knees, head clutched in her hands. The blonde strands of her hair were like a lightning storm striking around her in the windstorm. She hunched over, rocking on her knees trying to arrest his words from penetrating.

Jason was on high alert, every part of his body quivering with anticipation. Cupid's words stung and though an arrow pierced his chest, he stood. It was awkward holding his gladius but he did broke off the overhang leaving the flint within his body but better range of motion for his sword arm. It hurt like a son of a bitch but Jason managed a growl rather than a girlier pitch. The next time the invisible god bolted past him, he was ready. Jason caught a glancing blow to some part of his body and from the tension, he sensed the god stumbled.

Very good, Jason grace. You have had a glimpse at love. More than most, consider yourself lucky.

"I want the sceptre! We're going to stop Gaea and we need it. Styx said it would get our friends back to us and we need them to defeat her. Aren't you on our side? Don't you want to stop her before she destroys everything? You won't have people to go around shooting with your arrows if she destroys us all."

His heart was jackhammering in his chest as he swung his gladius hoping for a second blow but he sliced air and air alone. Hazel watched him worriedly. "Don't overdo it. It could bleed," but he dismissed her. Cupid hadn't shot him so he would bleed out. There was some point he was trying to make.

You couldn't wield the sceptre even if you wanted to. Only a child of the Underworld can call upon the dead, and a Roman leader command them.

"Nico or I could do it! We could rise them! And Jason could lead them…"

But could he lead them? Could he really? Because as much as he had been praetor that had been before… before Camp Half Blood. Before Piper. Before his memory was gone and he was implanted with a bunch of fake ones and danced around like a puppet on strings. Before he'd conceded to Percy and given up his position to the son of Poseidon. And hadn't he been going back and forth about where he belonged truly? Roman or Greek— why did he even have to choose?

You can't even look unto the face of love, Jason. How can you be so quick to volunteer? Could you lead them? Or would another be better fit…

The arrow dissolved then into air and the pummelling in his chest picked up, his heart a sledgehammer and his ribcage was glass. Any second he would crash his way through. Clutching at his chest, there was no wound, and yet he could feel pain surging through his body with each pump of his heart pushing blood and poison to the rest of him.

Love is no game, children. It is fierce and strong and passionate. It is a journey that never ends and it requires everything of you, especially truth. If you cannot face yourself, how can you face love?

The room fluxed around him and Jason was everywhere and no where all at once. Just like when the west wind had taken him, he had no tangible body tying him to the ground but he wasn't a spirit either. Everything shifted around him, shadows and light, until it formed pictures. From somewhere far away, he was still aware of Annabeth and Hazel. They were on this journey with him though he wasn't sure how or to what extent— maybe just spectators.

Piper stood before him in the Argo II, hands clasping and unclasping at her sides. Her hair was tied into braids at either side of her head and while normally this made her appear young the fire in her eyes was hot and unforgiving.

"What do you mean I can't go? This is my mission. You can't just decide that I'm no…"

"You're out of control, Piper. You said yourself you're not sure what happened but I think something is happening with your powers getting close to the homeland. They're not… you can't balance yourself out. Something might go wrong."

"This is about her, isn't it?"

"It's about everyone and their safety, Pipes! This can't go wrong or we're going to lose both of them. You know it's true… and we can't afford to lose either of them."

She'd stood before him brown eyes broken, his blue ones had been apologies, but hers had been closing doors.

Everything faded black and he had the sensation of twisting, falling, turning, but when it stopped he didn't exactly feel like he'd landed or arrived anywhere in particular. But thing shifted and moved once more.

He and Piper were standing inside New Rome on a rescue mission for Percy Jackson. Things hadn't yet gone south but her eyes were chary as a cat waiting for a mouse. She was looking for clues, that moment when he remembered things and then she'd pounce. So he hadn't said anything though feelings came rushing back and it was overwhelming and confusing but he'd met it steady and with a stony face.

"Anything?" She asked.

"Vaguely. It's all a bit hazy."

Tell them about your feelings. Your true feelings, Jason. Tell them how you really feel, or will you hide as you keep doing? Hide among your friends without ever really committing yourself. It's what you always do, isn't it? Cupid mocked.

But the sights and the sounds and the smells and the taste were all encompassing and his knees had been weak with the weight of his lie and his heart had been heavy with the adiposity of her expectations. She didn't want him to remember and so he smiled all blonde hair and blue eyes and she had relaxed. When he turned away, he closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of home pushing away a yearning.

The light deviated once more and the images came slower and faster all at once. His heart was the cadence, hammering away in time as they sped up. When he'd seen Reyna again and the way it'd taken away his breath. Before he'd disappeared they'd been together, just the once. Jason had eluded the full compass of the truth for the sake of sparing feelings; the daughter of Aphrodite was so completely different from the silent strength, cool calm and certainty with which she moved, fully conscious of each muscle and how to hold herself.

Finally he saw the note, just recently tucked behind the bust of Diocletian and Annabeth— so alike Reyna in her own self assurance and awareness— that she had closed his fingers around the note and pushed it back just a little bit further to keep Hazel from seeing. Because it was important that she not see or she would tell Piper and Piper, knowing it was for Reyna, would not understand in the way that Annabeth (or even Reyna herself) would… or could.

You do not have the strength, Jason, to face who you are or how you feel.

"Jason… what's this?" Hazel's voice was shrill, holding her head against the onslaught that was still happening around them; he was both blind and numb to do. "What is he talking about? What… what were you doing…"

And finally the last one. The last night in New Rome, before he'd disappeared. Reyna and her black hair swirling around her, dark eyes following the movement of his hands up and down her caramel skin. There had been sparks between them, quite literally, blue flashes crackling against her skin where he traced it with his fingers. Their lips had touched and their feet had quite literally come off the ground causing her to hold just a little tighter (not in a desperate way, she was too confident they would not fall, and too sure that she would be unharmed), laughing all the while.

He had told her nothing happened. He didn't remember much of it. He remembered everything and he might have told her— tried to tell her— but Piper's eyes were not forgiving. They did not want to know anything but the truth she was willing to tell herself and with a heavy heart he had fulfilled exactly what she wanted.

"I loved her!" He finally shouted, clutching at his chest. There was no wound and yet his heart steadied just a little. Lightning filled the room, lighting everything above them. It crackled, charging the air, before the bolts rained down. They missed Hazel and Annabeth though both demigods ducked and shouted, their hair soon standing on end like cartoon characters.

"I loved her and I did… everything I could but… I can't be in love with someone who doesn't want me as I am. As I was. I can't be what everyone wants me to be, only what I can be…I loved her but I'm not… I can't be in love with someone… and she's only in love with who she thinks I am. I'm not that person. I can't be any more."

His vision cleared and the cyclone around them dyed down. The first thing he saw was Hazel's tear stained cheeks, eyes boring through him like daggers. No sincere or silent apology would win her forgiveness, just like it would not for the daughter of Aphrodite; he felt both bigger and smaller at the same time. Annabeth crouched unmoving, unblinking, unjudging.

"She'll understand. I spent a lot of time loving who I wanted Percy to be… the boy from the prophecy, from my hopes… she'll understand. The weight is too much for anyone."

Jason's gladius dropped to the floor teetering back and forth, clattering, until finally it lay silent. The son of the sky hung his head, the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. And yet… he felt lighter. Untethered. Free to think and make the choice he'd as of yet not contemplated, too afraid of the road it might request of him and the ways that might effect Piper.

Cupid appeared before them, eyes ablaze, handsome but fierce. "Love may not always make us happy, but once you have faced it, you can begin to do something about it. You can live with it." He rested his hand on Hazel's shoulder and smiled down at her. "Do not be so judgemental, daughter of Pluto, for you are one to hold grudges. But the only way to conquer love is to face it, even if it possesses a different face than the one you expected."

Dark eyes glanced up at him, Hazel looked upon the face of love unblinking. He sighed and shook his head, curls falling in his eyes though not quite as tightly wound as her own. "Open your heart, demigod. There are those around you whom you think you know but are even more of a stranger to you thank this hero. We must all face love in our own time. He has done his part. Now you must do yours."

The god disappeared and in his place rested the sceptre just inches from her fingertips.

Jason's eyes were blurred with unshed tears, teeth worrying his bottom lip.

When he looked up Hazel was still crouched on the floor, unmoving, but her eyes were locked on him. Her fingers slid across the ground and grasped the sceptre like a lifeline, fingers running across the gems encrusted in it.

Annabeth's hands soon wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him into a hug.

"You have to tell her."

"I know."

"As soon as we get back."

"I know and I will… I just… it didn't seem like the right time. Now, before the war and…"

"It never would have seemed like a good time. It never will. But you have to be honest with her. We don't know what could happen but you owe her that much. Promise?"

"I promise."

"Okay, come on."

She took his hand in her own and pulled him up until he was standing.

Jason really wasn't looking forward on heading back to the ship.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Two

Promesse e Maledizioni

Nico


 

 

Sleeping on the granite floor of the only known rest stop in Tartarus turned out to be one of the most necessary things to ever happen to Nico di Angelo. It was right up there with: learning to ride a bike without training wheels, winning his first game of Mythomagic, meeting Percy Jackson at his boarding school in Maine, learning to command the dead, and shifting the earth for the very first time. How he felt upon waking wasn't all that different, either— surprised and with the weight of dread in his stomach.

Just because something was crucial didn't always mean it felt like a cake walk.

And in this case the compression against his skull by some invisible hand made the son of the Underworld feel like one of those fat grapes the satyrs were always stomping on to make more of Dionysus bacchant wine. In other words, ready to pop.

Laying where he was, he took an extra few minutes with eyes closed to steady the beating of his heart. The memories of the nightmares ebbed away like a falling tide— they always did. They were constant but fleeting; he accepted that as someone whose situation was always intermittent at best.

The chill of the floor was welcome compared to the warmth of the Grecian fire, or the rest of Tartarus for that matter. His back was cool but his forehead was dotted with sweat. Gods only knew what his hair would look like today— probably some massive frizzy culmination of curls corkscrewing every which way. Not that Tartarus was meant to leave anyone at their best. Maybe Percy, that jerk always looked amazing. Even with his hair sticking up in black strands in every direction, covered in monster gunk and with his clothes sizzling with acid. There was just no hope for the world, especially not for Nico di Angelo.

Stretching out his legs, they protested as they pushed out and he tilted his feet back expanding his achilles heel and feeling the shift and pop of dormant pressure. Limbs protested, though, feeling too long and gangly and so sore. Like really really sore. Bob was watching over them so he doubted some D-grade monster had snuck up in the night and bound him to a rack in an attempt to pop his limbs from their sockets. That didn't mean they felt any better though. Between his heart hammering in his chest (it hadn't stopped since they'd fallen), the pain in his head and the aching in his limbs, he felt an awful like something the Gorgon sisters were trying to peddle to the masses.

Bit by bit he became aware of his body, taking inventory of every discomfort. Assuming they would need to leave soon meant that he should be mindful of everything— all it took was a fraction of a second. One mistake. To keep the oath he'd made as they'd fallen, he could not go and screw anything up. That was how he came to be aware of the weight on his hand as well as the warmth.

Cracking open an eye, he was met with the closed lids of the son of Poseidon, his long fingers curled into Nico's own. If he'd been standing the floor would have fallen out from him, the Ghost King swallowed by precipitance.

Ohmygods. He's… touching my hand. Okay okay. No big thing or whatever. We were sleeping and it was an accident. People totally move around in their sleep. Bianca used to toss and turn and nearly through herself out of the bed. Completely normal.

Yeah, okay. You're only slightly clinging to him like a ten year old girl. His heart was a hummingbird wings so rapid they were a blur. How do you even… can I even move without him waking up? Just a little to the left now over and… oh. Oh. He's… yup he's definitely holding your hand back. Likelihood of escaping this situation with a single shred of dignity has declined to absolute zero. Like this could get any worse.

And just as the thought had formed in his mind it happened: the something worse.

"Wake up! No more sleep, now. Have to get up before Polybotes and the others get here. Many are after you demigods. Bob tried to cover the scent but please do not take this the wrong way, you are very good smelling! Very tasty! Yum yum. Not as tasty as M&M's but they are harder to smell." The frown lines stretched across his face, silver eyebrows clenched together.

Scrunching his eyes shut, the younger demigod feigned sleep in hopes of extricating himself from one of the world's most embarrassing situations ever. Like, literally mortifying. He probably would have had a heart attack and died if life had been slightly less cruel but the universe took great pleasure in rolling around chuckling its stupid head off at Nico. He pushed down whatever minuscule fragment breathed to life for the very first time.

"'M up… I swear!" The son of Poseidon mumbled into his arm where his face was pressed. Through the tiniest crack in his eye he watched as the other demigod stretched himself out and lifted his head, a string of drool attaching his raised head to where he'd just been laying on his arm. For a fraction of a second he closed his hand more tightly around Nico's and then pulled back as he sat up. Everything else seemed so far away.

Another few beats passed them by before the son of Hades rolled onto his back and stretched his arms over his head, both nonchalant and completely oblivious to any hand holding escapades whilst sleeping (the other was completely buying it, no really, he should be an actor if only his ears didn't stick out so much and his nose wasn't so prominent and his skin so pale). Cracking open one eye and then the other, he turned his attention to both Percy and Bob.

"Hurry, little gods. We need to be out of here right now. No more time for rest."

"I don't take it there's going to be another time, huh, Bob?"

He frowned at both of them, eyes pale as moonlight and just as sad; he shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not."

"Don't worry, big guy. I didn't think so." Percy clapped him on the back gently and offered a small smile. "Come on, Nico. We've got to go."

Percy's eyes nearly glowed in the light of the Grecian fire. Nico swallowed hard his knees melting and legs refusing to move— the look the sea prince fixed the Ghost King was full of 'I know that you know and I don't mind.'

"C-coming!" He shouted and ran after the two grabbing for his Stygian blade.

 

--------

 

Bob established he knew exactly where he needed to take them and while he had complete faith in this, Percy required a little convincing. Not that he'd doubted Bob but wrapping his kelp for brains around where they were going and how it was going to support them was understandable.

That was when Bob made the big reveal. Death mist.

"What's that?"

Even as the Titan began to explain, Nico's bloodstream was filled with ice. He knew exactly what it was, how it could hide them. They could be enveloped in it at the moment but his heart was too anemic to harbour the idea; he swallowed back the bile building up at the back of his throat.

The trio was breaching the edge of a dark forest, if it could be called that. Rather than bulging pockets of reforming monsters obstructing their passage, warped trees rose up before them. They were taller than he could see, blocking out the strange red swirled clouds and the meagre pulsing light that sometimes allowed them to see (even if its source was not apparent).

The temperature dropped; goosebumps crept along his skin.

"You know Annabeth's cap and how it makes the wearer invisible?"

Percy nodded his head.

"Death mist is like draping yourself in death. You won't look like you anymore and your physical form will start to disperse until you're insubstantial."

"So we'd be what exactly? …Like undetectable to monsters? Gods! We'll actually be able to get to the doors. I mean up until now I hadn't even been thinking about it because everything else just seemed wicked impossible but…" Percy was near bubbling over.

Nico hated to be the one to pollute his vision but sucking on his bottom lip, he crossed his arms over his chest and cast a glance upwards. The thought was settling well with him, but neither was being blinded to what of the dark sky they'd previously had. "Wear it for too long and it doesn't come off, Perce. It's dangerous! It's not like playing dead it's actually completely submitting yourself to— y-you feel yourself dying, okay? N-no one… no one's ever done it before except for me." The words fell more and more faint until he was mumbling, struggling to force them out of his own mouth.

The son of death had nearly become death itself. Bob knowing a different way would have been too expectant for someone used to going without. And still…

On that light note things took a turn for the even more fun— more fun being defined in Tartarus as creating another endeavour to decimate whatever demigod happened to be hanging around and as there were only two to choose from it was all dedicated to two of the Big Three. Yippee.

"What's that—" before the words were fully formed there was a rustling of from above. Something or somethings were moving around up there.

Bob shifted where he stood, hands shoved deep into the front pocket of his dirty denim coverall. "Not good. Not good at all."

Nico was inclined to mirror that sentiment and then it started to rain old women. If old women had gnarled brass claws for fingernails, fiery jewels for eyes, and faces twisted and pitted with scars. Their hair was pulled back severe like librarians in a ballerina tight buns that looked to be creating an artificial face lift with the tauntness of the hair pulled back. They wore torn black gowns, maybe silk or something equally as fine if it hadn't been in need of a laundrette for the past seven hundred years or so.

The one nearest Nico clutched knitting needles in her knotted fingers about three sizes too small for her to handle appropriately. A ball of yarn disappeared into the pocket of an overgrown sweater it looked very much like she was still making at that very minute— the bottom wasn't finished and it was missing some buttons. All the stitches were mismatched and she knit where she should have pearled and it was a horrible mess of a thing.

So happy to see you! She cackled and her smile revealed more gums than rotten teeth.

So many will be pleased! Another dropped next to Poseidon's son who was already uncapping Riptide and had the blade to hand.

Not that they can ever truly be pleased… nagged another.

"Please tell me you're not going to try and make us sample anything. We've had enough samples…"

What!? Samples!? No! There will be no samples!

Who do you think we are? The Gorgon sisters? Another shrieked.

Please! They are trifling and their BBQ isn't even that good.

I heard their food hygiene and safety rating was a zero! Absolutely appalling.

That's the lowest ever given in Tartarus.

Don't you have to not show up to even get a zero? I thought you got points just for writing your name!

Wow. That was pretty low. And Percy had packed more of that crap away than he had cared to think about in the first place. The other demigod was holding up a hand in his direction silencing Nico before he could even speak.

"Just don't."

"Wasn't going to," he chirped back with 'I told you so' practically painted on his forehead in fluorescent green.

"No offense, ladies. We'd love to stand around with you all day chatting. I'm sure you're real interesting and all but we kind of have stuff to do elsewhere and a deadline to meet. You know the whole life or death thing," Percy waved his arm in a circle as if to illustrate. "So do you really need us or can we get going?"

Definitely not the right thing to say. The one closest clenched her knitting needles and cross-stitched up a storm until another row on her misshapen sweater was complete.

Oh yessss. Yes, we need you. So many torments to choose from.

Why choose just one? Added another as she dropped from the trees. In her left brassy hand she clung to what looked like a hook.

"What is that?"

Her jaw dropped in offence revealing more fangs than some of the more dentally challenged before them.

A crochet hook! I bet you know what knitting needles are! You little spoiled nitwits. No time for real skills these days. Why, do you know how long it takes to make something useful with just this and some wool!?

SILENCE! The one in the front barked causing even the trees around them to shake.

Bob, glowing slightly in the dark (it was all the silver and his light pigment, it just wouldn't succumb to the dreariness surrounding them), shook where he stood.

In the name of Night, we bring you a thousand curses. And today, Perseus Jackson, you must choose.

Riptide was at the ready, clutched in his skilled hands. There was no tension in his stance, Nico could read that much. They'd battled together side by side enough times now to be familiar with the other's style and while at Camp Jupiter new flares had been adapted, he would trust his life in the other's hands.

"It's a curse. I don't really have to choose anything now do I," he shot back, choppy as the sea in a storm.

"Gods, do you always have to backchat? You're like the snarkiest precursor to fighting ever." Nico moaned quietly so only his companion could hear and he rolled his eyes, blade still at the ready. Really, he was just being contrary for the sake of it now.

"It kind of takes away from the menace and manliness of it if you point it out," he hissed back.

"Yeah, right. Sooo macho of you."

"Shut it!"

A curse is an oath is it not? They are as much alike as they are different. Waving her knitting needles at them she pointed one directly at his heart. No matter, son of Poseidon, you will choose and my, my, my, what a stack you have to choose from.

That was when the hoard of demonic old ladies in librarianesque attire attacked.

Nico was a shadow, fluid and flowing, following his attackers but always anticipating the next move. With his blade of ebon in hand, he slashed and parried twirled to avoid being chest deep in bronze old lady fingers— they really needed manicures or some basic lessons in self care (only unlike one son of the sea god he wasn't snarking about it out loud).

With each blow, however, he was careful not to land any death delivering ones, which became harder and harder when the swarm of old women just wouldn't stop coming. They were a tidal wave, ever increasing and ready to crash down. But if they were a tidal wave, Percy was a tsunami and the sword he flaunted was the drawback, a tell tale sign another was about to break.

Tell us, Perseus, what shall it be? Which curse will be your last?

"None!" He boomed as he swiped one of the arai with his blade and she burst into dust. Just as soon as she had, Nico heard a shout and he silently cursed to himself. "My eye's twitching! What the hell?"

"Don't kill them, Percy. They're curses. Every time you touch or kill one you're unleashing their specific curse. They're born of bad blood…" The words were a struggle to articulate between dodging and slashing without the intent to kill.

"So if we kill them we die."

"Yes."

"And if we don't… they kill us."

"Looks like it!" Nico added while a misplaced blow blew up the arai in front of him. He was bestowed the dying wish of a monster he'd killed back in Maine. One of the very first when he'd first shadow travelled and hadn't any control over where he landed or when he stopped. Somehow he'd wound up near his old boarding school and a giant (apparently quite plentiful in the forest as it made for good mating— the thought actually made him spew) had attempted to craft demigod stew. He'd escaped and killed it.

One of his legs gave out beneath him. Apparently the best it could come up with in its last moment was for his left leg to go completely pins and needles asleep tingly. "Zeus' thunderbolt," he grumbled forcing himself up. He could still walk and hobble but running was going to be out of the question lest he wind up face first in the dirt.

He called out for Bob, the masses pressing forward, buzzing in his ears. Percy was a machine, he could barely see him with teh way he cut down the arai. A new curse for each one and he kept going. Blood was pouring from his nose, he was clutching at his stomach, he was pretty sure he was also bleeding from his leg and a puncture to his shoulder but he was still going.

"Bob!" He shouted. "Bob, please help!"

"Bob hates curses," the other confirmed, shrinking back. For the most part the old women had let him alone.

Do not be so cruel as to bring him into this, half blood. He is cursed enough.

"Cursed?" Bob wondered.

And they told him. That Percy Jackson was responsible for the loss of his memory and his new identity. That he once had a life as something larger than the official Janitor of the Underworld.

Did he ever visit you once?

"No… n-no but the other did! Nico is my friend. He visited me always and told me stories. He kept me company when I was lonely." The Titan's voice grew strong and he wielded his broom as the younger demigods used their swords.

"Get away from me!" Percy shouted, perhaps half deaf from some other curse but it was impossible to hear. There were so many arai and they kept chattering about the ones that he picked and chose.

I have a special curse for you, son of the wrteched sea. Most curses are only bound by death but this one… made in life.

She had her bronze claws at his throat but Nico was too far away. Somehow he knew without any way of knowing how, but he just knew that Percy couldn't touch that one.

"Don't! Percy, you have to stop before they kill you! Please, don't!"

Shoving through some of them, another grabbed onto his shoulder and pierced the skin with her long bronze talons. Without thinking he pivoted and the Stygian blade cut her head clean from her body and she fractured into a cloud of monster particles. The more that fell, the more pressure in his head. Death pressed around him and the veil slipped making it harder to block out the true images of Tartarus. Slapping his hands to the side of his head he could feel the fallen curse settling into his bones.

Percy Jackson, it whispered.

"Please, Percy. Don't!" He clamoured as they descended. "Not that one!" But his cry wasn't heard.

The world tilted around him and everything went silent. Not the strange silence of Tartarus but the all encompassing silence of the jar. He could feel the pounding in his chest and the pressure on his lungs but even those didn't make any noise. Digging his fingernails into his head he squeezed his eyes shut and attempted to block everything else out attempting to force sounds back into his reality. But they were gone. All of them.

Percy Jackson when he sat in the cell of his father's kingdom cursed you with silence so you might know what it was like to truly be abandoned.

Dropping to his knees, he clutched at his ears, eyes brimming with tears.

No. No no no.

Before him Percy ripped through two more arai. Sea green eyes were swimming when they met Nico's and he could see it. The older demigod clutched at his chest and the strange whisper speak of the arai needn't be heard for him to know what one of those curses was. That ocean was haunted by the earth and fingers tearing at his chest desperately trying to calm his insides.

A curse from a ten year old boy fleeing camp half blood as he realised exactly what a boy with barnacles for brains meant to him and how betrayed he felt by the older boy's failures to live up to all of his idealisation. A broken heart wanting the other to know exactly what it felt like.

And the other? He could only guess, but the way blood frothed like sea foam from the other boy's mouth, it wasn't good.

Nico forced himself up clutching his sword as he turned to Bob, wiping at his eyes.

Please help, he tried to shout though there was no sound. He could have whispered it or failed to say anything at all. Please help, if our friendship has meant anything, I swear he is good. Please help.

Poseidon's son fell to the ground and his eyes were smooth as sea glass.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Three

Conceding Curses

Percy


It wasn't that Percy hadn't heard the child of Hades— he had, but he hadn't listened.

Bob cowered with Small Bob in his hands (the tiny hellion of a cat they'd discovered along the way who was mewling and nesting within the top of his coveralls). Bob and his cat were a sight in and of themselves, but to see him shrinking at the sight of the demonic librarians with their gnarly bronze talons when he easily could have sat on at least seven of them at the same time was pretty bizarre. Not to say that bizarre wasn't exactly the theme of this whole misbegotten quest in the first place, because it most certainly was.

But it was the shrinking, the way he clutched the tiny cat with fear in his silver eyes, that boiled the fury bottled deep inside of him until it came erupting forth, a geyser of furor. So he had sliced, slit, gashed and carved through the arai before them. The sea prince heard Nico's warning but he was beyond hearing and the words would not sink to the centre of the tempest in time.

Maybe he deserved the curses, that's what he kept thinking.

Maybe he deserved each and every one: for forgetting about his friends and camp, for all the people he'd left behind, for the ones he hadn't paid close enough attention to, for the ones he had failed, the ones he had lost, and the ones he had yet to lose.

There had been blood on his hands since the age of eleven and at sixteen he couldn't recall all the casualties. There would be more in his lifetime. There would always be more. Heroes were forged in trial and fire but demigods survived in blood (of monsters or fallen kin, it was one or the other).

So maybe Percy Jackson deserved this one thing.

Their masses had pressed forward and he had screamed louder and longer than he ever could remember, the sound rending from his throat like a riptide— it drew them closer. But there was one, the way her red eyes glowed smirking and smiling and giggling. Yes, giggling. She was actually giggling at him amused at the way that he moved and her fallen sisters. Or maybe it was the way blood was dripping from his ears and his eye was twitching— or the spasming in his thigh muscle (equally as obnoxious).

"Please, Percy! Don't!"

But he was beyond hearing.

Oh what a great honour. The mighty son of the sea chooses me over my sisters! I was born of a very special malison. A gift from the living.

"You have no power over me! If you want to stop us from reaching our goal, you won't. We've gone through greater than you." He growled, moving forward with riptide an extension of his arm. But she ignored him, smirking her mostly toothless (and was actually drooling, which was sick in and of itself but made worse by the fact her breath absolutely reeked).

Mmm… yes, I know many feel strongly for you. We have heard about the great cur of the bottom feeder. Leeching the lives and the victories from those around you.

"Don't you dare talk about my father or my friends that way!" Percy forced the limping leg to move that fraction of a second faster though the pain blazed up his leg and he nearly missed a few steps, but she continued.

But how many have you crushed enough to plague your existence while breath still leaves their lips? That is a special karma not coming to many.

The tide broke then and the arai pressed around them. From far off— or was it just to the side of him?— he heard the other boy shout to him to stop but he couldn't. Riptide crested, bringing itself down on the monster and not stopping until he'd laid to waste the one nearest her as well who was attempting to get a sneaky gouge at his eyes when he wasn't paying attention. A few others disappeared, bursting into a rain of monster ash as they swirled in the air before settling back to the ground.

Even as they settled, he couldn't get the image burned from the back of his lids: she'd smiled even as the sword came. She had laughed and smiled joyful in her intention.

And then her intention hit him like a forty foot wave.

The son of the sea god fell to his knees, clutching at his chest as numbness spread down the left side of his body, tightness spreading across his ribcage, becoming the youngest demigod in history to nearly die of a heart attack.

It wasn't screaming inside of his chest, not really, but a vice that grew tighter and tighter squeezing the centre of his chest. Pressure build and his veins sang a dizzying melody that cried up along his neck and into his brain weakening his knees and fighting his resolve. Sweat dotted his forehead as his shins kissed the ground— his stomach cramped and his arm turned to stone, an impossible weight to transport. As the vice clamped his breaths came shorter and everything swam, not the pleasant strokes of the sea but the erratic exertion of the drowning.

The veil was lifted from his eyes as he pitched forward, temple colliding with the ground. But it wasn't the ground, not really, but a membrane. Living, thriving membrane. It pulsed with life beneath him and the sky churned, the atmosphere wasn't the atmosphere at all.

Deep inside him, something tugged and pulled and worked its way out. He felt close to the water but there was no ocean for ages but this… they were travelling on cells. Blood cells. In the veins of Tartarus and part of his mind broke.

No wonder Nico went a little weird. That's completely normal. He thought.

That was pushed from his head as the weight of fatigue smothered him like a warm blanket and his brain was filled with unseeable visions.

Nico, all dark curls and big brown eyes thrusting a Poseidon action figure up and inquiring if that was really what his dad looked like and had he ever met him? Did he take him on trips? What was he like and did he really have an attack worth…? They were so wide and trusting, soaking the other boy in and when the son of the sea had promised the child of Hades he would protect his sister and bring her back he's responded with an I know. No one had ever had unwavering faith in him before.

It was so simple. So instant. So complete. Looking back on it now, it rattled him to his core. The boy had lived silent and isolated in a cabin filled with mischievous children and teens, easily picked on for being pint sized. His enthusiasm made him quick to target, as did his lack of any kind of anything children his age found interesting besides Pokemon and Mythomagic— the latter only really interesting to an older sect who couldn't be bothered with such a young follower.

Percy and Bianca traveled out and Bianca joined the Hunters and he sat alone in the corner of a cabin confined to a mat on the floor alone. Just like in Maine and yet he went to sleep each night looking out the window at the stars certain that a child of Poseidon was as noble as the sea and would bring back his family.

The day he had returned, Percy had brought his entire world crashing down around him, a maelstrom devouring and devastating all that he loved. For a brief moment there was a flicker in his eyes of disbelief, a stirring and a waiting and a glance over his shoulder looking to see if his raven haired sister was not far behind. But he found her absent.

Percy's words were the cataclysm and Nico's eyes were landslides, fast and unforgiving burying any who came too close. The ground trembled beneath their feet and as his tears dotted the ground it ripped apart like his heart. The dead crawled forth disturbed from their sleep determined to bury the bringer of so much suffering.

There had never been a noise like the avalanche from the child of Hades throat and he had known then that he was made of earth and shadows, just like he knew that he himself was made of sand and sea. Nico clawed at his hair and with tears burning his eyes had entombed the dead before they could rip the skin from the sea prince's body. But even as he fled he cried— not just for Bianca.

There was something more. His heart was broken with a love that ran deeper.

And that was when everything truly went black.

Floating, not like when he was suspended in the sea, but wrapped in the comfort of a cloud.

Comfort.

That was ultimately what started the gunky gears in his mind turning once more— even his body couldn't recall the last time he'd felt something so simple as comfort. It was wholly foreign and suspect.

As he ascended towards the surface his senses returned to him slowly at first and then faster. A dull aching in his shoulder pierced the fog of his mind, pulsing with each beat of his heart (hadn't there been Gorgon's blood and poison?). But then with each beat of his heart the muscle felt exhausted and there was a remaining tightness in chest that was alleviating slowly…

"Shh, don't move."

A green eye opened attempting to fix a gaze somewhere. The only sound that left him came out as an unintelligible 'mrrr—nnnng?'

"Come on, just one more sip. You'll feel better if you keep drinking, okay?" Fingertips rubbed at his scalp, lazily combing through his hair and while Percy's eyes wouldn't yet focus, he parted his lips and his mouth was soon filled with broth. It trickled down his throat spreading warmth into the corners frosted by the darkness of Tartarus. "Good," was crooned not far from his ear.

"Almost too late. But not quite." The voice was soft but thunderous without trying.

Bob, the thought formed. Bob's here. And for some reason that was surprising. Why shouldn't he be? Because I cursed him and he knows it… Iapetus… he knows who he is now. But he's here… not hurting me. Or is he why I'm like this?

But then the nectar hit his lips and the thoughts dissipated. If he were a prisoner somewhere waiting for someone to dole out payback they would hardly be taking care of him.

Nectar always tasted cool to parched lips but it was similar— it tasted like his mom's fresh baked cookies with a subtle hint of herbs and an afterthought of s'mores and campfire. Swallowing, he finished the spoonful given to him and his vision steadied, coming into focus. Above him, wooden beams crisscrossed on the ceiling but spirals the colour of night obscured half of his vision, cascading down over… it was the white collarbone poking out from the bomber jacket that did it. Reality snapped back into place and the sea prince felt firmly rooted in his body once more.

Reacquainted with his body and with consciousness meant the throbbing of his shoulder hit him like a ton of bricks and the tightness in his chest resurfaced. His back was pressed against Nico's chest and the boy had clearly been feeding him some sort of remedy— whatever Tartarus could consider a countermeasure to curses.

Curses. The word woke something within him and he was soon turning his head, craning his neck in an attempt to see Nico. The body behind him went rigid, clouds of tension contrasting the softness of the bed beneath him.

"Am I dead?"

A chuckle disturbed the quiet. Somewhere in the background a fire crackled and a kitten snored.

"Almost. I wouldn't let that happen to you."

Nico. Bob. Tartarus. The Doors of Death. The arai and the curses. One of the curses came from Nico.

Without thinking, his hand slid up over his chest.

"I'm sorry," he croaked, the words hardly carrying past his chapped lips.

"Me, too."

"The arai…?"

"Bob took care of them all. He's pretty handy with a broom, not sure if you've noticed. Swept them all right back to dust."

"And now we're—"

"Somewhere safe. For now, anyway. That's all that matters."

"Nico, listen. About the last curse—"

"I'm not surprised you don't remember it. That's not important. The whole thing with the arai—" Nico waived his hand in the air like he was swiping through an Iris Message and finishing a conversation. "How are you feeling?" Just like that the other half blood terminated any chance Percy had to question about that last curse and the pain in his heart.

He had felt it shatter and Percy couldn't be confident that it would ever be pieced back together. Tilting his head, he was searching but ochre irises were veiled. The shroud may be thinner than it was previously but Percy was too depleted to pull the curtains aside and see what lingered there.

"Like an oil tanker just dumped its contents into a sea cove."

"That good, huh?"

"Oh yeah. Definitely that good."

Shifting a bit, he winced as the pain in his shoulder radiated outward when he moved. As rested as he might have been (that in and of itself was a hilarious thought given their current predicament), he needed to sit up and get his bearings again. When he was sat up, Nico slid out from under the blanket now that his companion no longer required vigilant care and instead sat an arm's length away at the end of the bed. Really, he was practically hanging off the end of the bed with most of his weight more than likely held by the toes of his worn shoes (how Tartarus hadn't completely dissolved all their clothing given the toxicity was another complete anomaly).

A chill ran up his spine as something somewhere was severed within the son of the sea.

Nico, now to his left, fiddled with the blanket on the bed pulling at a a threadbare section removing from it further stitches and fraying the ends a bit more. His shoulders were hunched and nervous tension rolled off of him in dark waves. Studying him, he remained silent and took a few more sips of the soup he assumed was responsible for making him feel the slightest bit human again and honestly, that was saying a lot given the last few days.

"I'm really sorry, okay? About everything. I know you didn't mean the curse, the silence and the solitude but I'm sorry. I-i… I was just young, you know? And my heart was in a bad way and I just wanted someone to care about me. I thought m-maybe it would be my dad if I could just do that one thing for him. If I could prove my worth to him and I'd have something again." Dark eyes blazed as they fixed on Percy. "You don't know what it's like. I was just a kid, Percy. And I was completely alone. I wandered through the Underworld and slums in cities not even meaning to shadow travel at first. I saw things and the things that happened to me— I couldn't be alone any more. I thought if I just did that one thing then maybe everything could be okay again. I never meant to hurt you or betray you— I mean, I did. I meant to. I wanted to hurt you the way that you hurt me! I was ten! I was ten and I know you weren't much older but you had people. There's nothing noble about being alone, Perseus. Not when you're ten years old, not ever. And I didn't have anyone but I continued to have no one because I helped you because it was the right thing to do. And I will keep on helping you until my last breath because I know it's the right thing to do, no matter what."

One of the patches on the blanket came undone from Nico's incessant tugging and twisting but his hands were like knots and the longer her spoke the faster his words came, a mudslide down a mountain after too much rain. He was blazing, intense and his cheeks were flushed red as he attempted to hide behind a curtain of his hair when he finished.

Reaching over, Percy closed his hand over Nico's and gave it a squeeze.

"I haven't always been a good friend to you, so please, don't apologise. We were just children. No one can expect so much from children— and look at our parents. Not exactly the best examples."

Both demigods chuckled letting silence settle between them for a few seconds more.

"You won't have to be alone. When we get out of this, I'll make sure of it."

Something glimmered in Nico's eyes and the younger boy smiled. It might just have been a trick of the light but there may have even been tears.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Four

Styx and Stygian

Nico


"Why didn't you tell me?"

It was the question that Nico knew eventually he would be responsible for answering. So when it was out in the open, he was unsurprised. It had been a long time coming.

Bob's silver eyes were fixed on him. In his left hand, he twirled his broom around and around; it was the first time the son of Hades had witness the Titan fidgeting. His expression was open and expectant waiting for Nico to tell him a story: the truth or otherwise.

It had always been coming to this.

But now with the arai dispatched and their virulent essence pulsing in the air— they were just as dark and dangerous even without a tangible form— he had the world's worst headache and he didn't have it in him to dance around the subject. He'd be damned if his skull wasn't cracking down the centre like a rotting egg. Nico's brain felt too much like it was swelling and the pressure building against the backs of his eyes was unreal— he wouldn't be surprised if one of his eyes popped out. Literally, his palms were pressing against them trying to keep the contents of his skull in lest it spill out on the ground in front of them and while he'd seen plenty of gruesome things he just couldn't bring himself to have to live with that one particular experience.

The silence was gone but in its place agony was enough that his empty stomach was cramping, bile presenting itself in the back of his throat. Half coughing, half swallowing, he cleared his throat.

"We all make mistakes, Bob. We shouldn't have to keep paying for them over and over again." Hunching over, he rested one hand on his knee while the other pressed hard enough against his eyelids that he saw starbursts on the back of both lids. Every beat of his heart was a supernova and even the depths of Tartarus was too bright.

"He made the best decision he could with what he had to work with at the time. Bob, you're amazing. A great friend and a good listener and honestly you're one of the only people who understands what it's like sometimes…" The words fell from his lips as he swallowed the bile trying to anchor himself and fight the ice that was threatening to conquer the oppressive heat of the pit. A shiver was working its way up his tired limbs (they were always fatigued lately; he just couldn't shake it) and the ground was looking more and more welcoming.

C'mon, Nico. You've got to pull yourself together. Percy… he's not doing too well. We have to do something for him. Check to see if he's okay— what if he's— no, you can't think that way. Gotta do something.

Nico forced himself to stand and removed the hand from his eyes, opening them once more. Bob was frowning, chewing on the end of his broom handle much like it was a pencil. It was oddly like Mrs O'Leary and her chew toys.

"Bob, you're amazing but Iapetus wasn't amazing. He tried to kill Percy and so he had to make a choice: die or let him forget who he was. And then we got you, Bob, and I don't think for a second that was a mistake. This… this is a mistake." Holding his arms out to either side of his body, he motioned to the whole ridiculous situation. Percy laying where he was in, injured and likely dying. Nico stood before a Titan arguing the validity and necessity of an unspeakable evil: ripping away who someone was. Bob, not Tartarus or Gaia, being the one to ultimately tilt the scales one way or another at that second because he had a choice: whether to believe Nico and help them, or to scorn his only true friend and leave them both to expire. "It should have been him to tell you. I hoped someday that he would but…"

Sucking in a deep breath, he held it within his lungs until they burned hoping that the lack of movement might help to calm his stomach. Or, better yet, choking off the oxygen to his brain would go at least a little way towards shutting his brain down and deadening the tension.

With what energy he could muster, he dropped down beside Percy and tilted his head, ear over the boy's mouth. He couldn't hear anything but the faint wisp of air tickling at his ear let him know that the son of the sea was still living.

Tears burned at his eyes as he clutched the older demigod to him, lifting him from where he lay, blood pooling from a wound. The shirt he had borrowed from Nico was now also ripped to shreds in the same area and pushing the fabric aside, he could see the irritation as the Gorgon poison spread to the skin around it causing boils and a sort of weeping. It was deep, on the back of his shoulder going down toward the muscle. Even if he had ambrosia to feed the other, there was no way it would mend the wound fast enough or well enough for the other to be able to use his sword arm with any sort of accuracy.

What am I supposed to do? I-I… I have no idea what to do. I'm not strong enough to carry him, not right now.

The boy squeezed his eyes shut, trying to quiet the noise in his head but there was no spool to unravel or mystery to solve: the situation was exactly as it presented itself. And it was vacuous and they'd be left wanting.

He was always left wanting. His whole life, no one had ever offered to help sate his needs. He had been torn from his mother, deprived of his sister, estranged from the mortal realm only to be isolated from the half bloods. Always different always separate. Always apart and never enough. And no matter how many times he assisted the gods, his father included, his fortune did not change. Nico di Angelo was destined to pine for one who could never love him back and while he stomached it, he could not stand to be put any lower. There was never thanks and he couldn't keep shouldering these weights all by himself.

"WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT THIS!? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME? HAVEN'T YOU ALREADY TAKEN EVERYTHING!? I HAVE NOTHING! WOULD YOU TAKE THIS FROM ME, TOO?" Clinging to Percy, he rocked the boy in his arms, inhaling the gentle scent of the sea. How it remained, he didn't know, not after days in Tartarus bathed in the ichor of monsters and water of blood and their own sweat and fears. Nico's shoulders collapsed into himself, bringing himself like a shield around the other. "You can't take him," he whispered.

A tear slipped past his lashes and fell down his face, dropping and disappearing into the dark mass of hair at the top of Percy's head. "H-how am I supposed to get him to you? How can he help save the world again if he isn't there? Dad… dad, please if you can hear me, if you're listening, please. This one thing for me, please. Zeus, Poseidon, anyone… j-just this one thing. Please."

The silence stretched on and in his delirium, Percy coughed, choking on his own tongue and for a second there was a gurgling in the back of his throat. Nico's heart stopped afraid the man he held's heart had done the same but after a few seconds there was another gentle stirring of the air and he knew the hero lived, even if it might not be for long.

"Scegli me. Si prega di scegliere me al suo posto." The words fell from his lips faster than the salt from his eyes.

Ho sentito la tua preghiera e io risponderò. Non ti preoccupare ragazzino. Riceverai il mio aiuto. Ma ci sarà una condizione. Ora fretta, prima che è al di là di aiuto.

The words sprang to mind like a fountain in the forest. They were gentle and flowed, cooling the heat of his anger and calming the stirring in his chest.

The air shuddered from his lungs and it wasn't until he felt the massive hand of the Titan on his shoulder and recognised the purring of the undead monster kitten that everything snapped back into focus.

"Come. Bob knows someone who may be able to help."

Nico scurried to his feet, swiping the back of his hand across the damp of his eyes. Percy was cradled in Bob's arms like an infant.

Thank you, he thought to himself.

Though he couldn't be sure who might be watching over him, he knew deep in his gut that ultimately he would give them whatever they asked for so long as they could give him what he wanted: Percy's passage out.

 


 

 

After that, things had gotten tricky— he had struggled to keep up with Bob's much longer strides but he hadn't complained. The air had thickened, black clouds around them, and it was hard to see more than a few feet in front of his own face. The son of the Underworld jogged as best he could trying to keep pace so as not to lose the Titan's silver bobbing head lest he lose his way.

The terrain grew harder and harder for him to travel across and the swamp… the swamp was a whole different story. It stank and he'd lost a shoe at some point (not that it mattered, really, what the fuck was a doc martin in the grand scheme of things? But no, really, they had been his favorite pair), been sucked down and nearly swallowed on more than one occasion and that was before even discussing what lived in the swamp. Because was lived in the swamp were the types of creepy crawlies that made the ghoulies and demons from his father's realm look much like Small Bob: tame and unassuming.

All the while his heart was hammering in his ears echoing the sound of his breathing until it was a cacophony boring into his skull. A giant… that had seemed insane but at this point Nico would take any kind of irresponsible if it would save the other. He'd shook his head, ignoring the dark stringy strands of hair as they'd fallen across his vision and reassured Bob that it didn't matter: Damasen would help or he wouldn't. There was nothing more than that at this point. Just hopes and long shots. That was all they'd had this whole time.

Honestly? When the giant had nearly consumed the two half bloods, Nico was nearly relieved. At this point it wasn't a matter of if it would end but when it would end and he was growing so weary. The first sight he'd had of himself since this whole fucking mess was in a reflection in the giant's surprisingly cozy home and Hades' child couldn't even find it in him to be surprised by the streak of grey streaking a section of his dark hair. Everything about this place was wrong.

It had nearly been too late. But not quite. Damasen had offered a potion of herbs and plants and vegetables and some other various components he couldn't easily identify. Nico had used the last of his strength and composure to put the other man to bed, tucked up and safe, where he slipped behind him to keep watch. He fed him some of the broth when it was offered stealing only a sip or two for himself— he could deal with whatever malady was already wreaking havoc on his body— and wrapped his arms around Percy's still form. Between the crackling of the fire and the heaviness of his own head, he hadn't meant to but he'd drifted.

"Ho aspettato per voi, semidio. Che cosa ci hai messo tanto?" (I waited for you, demigod. What took you so long?)The dark parted, a curtain to another place and time pushing aside revealing a tall dark figure before him. Her hair flowed passed her shoulders, tied with shells and sea glass, the tendrils always drifting like a current. On her head she wore a crown of waterlilies tied together by reeds. The scent of cool and damp was familiar.

"Tu parli italiano?" Nico stood back, surprised, but then again, it was the least shocking of occurrence in his life. Standing just a little bit taller, he reached for his side his fingers brushing only air where his Stygian blade should have lay at his side. "Chi sei tu? Perché vuoi aiutarmi?" (Who are you? Why would you help me?)

She ebbed forward, the folds of her dress glowing from within. Fish swam along the hem of her dress and nibbled at other plants and there might have even been tadpoles as well or a frog… it was a little odd and yet she was beautiful. Like the nymphs at Camp Half Blood but not so severe and much stronger. "Io parlo tutte le lingue, perché non può essere facilmente definito da una sola lingua." (I speak all languages because I cannot easily be defined by one.) As she circled around the boy, he flinched back hands at the ready. He might not have his sword but he'd be damned if he went down without getting in a few good hits. "Ti ho conosciuto da prima eri un pensiero nella mente di tua madre. Stavo aspettando anche di più. Siamo simili, piccolo re dei fantasmi. Ma chi sono io non è importante quanto ciò che cercate." ("I have known you since before you were a thought in the mind of your mother. I was waiting even longer. We're alike, little king of ghosts. But who I am is not as important as what you seek.")

"Cosa cerco?" His eyes narrowed, breathing coming just a little bit faster. (What I seek?)

Somewhere inside of him, he was aware that this was just a dream or a vision. His body was elsewhere back in a cabin belonging to a giant he prayed to the gods wasn't going to turn him into some kind of lunchable.

"Figlio delle tenebre, questo è il problema. So cosa azione che si prende. Ho sentito la chiamata e posso rispondere ad essa. Ci sono conseguenze. Avete comprendere che cosa accadrà se si seguono attraverso? Vi è alcun arresto se si decide di iniziare." (Son of darkness, this is the problem. I know what action you would take. I have heard your prayer and I can respond to it. But there are consequences. Do you understand what will happen if you follow through? There is no stopping if you decide to start.)

The Goddess ebbed and flowed, always nearing and then receding in her proximity to him. Nico circled around her, trying to find any sign of weakness. And if not a weakness then something he could exploit to keep himself breathing just a few seconds longer.

"So quello che sto facendo, io sto facendo questo per qualcuno." ("I know what I'm doing, I'm doing this for someone.")

Inside his chest fluttered. Why was she so adamant on asking so many frigging questions? The hairs on the back of Nico's neck stood up, a child whispering its way down the length of his spine. She reached out and he tried to flinch away but found that he could not move though nothing was holding him in place. Her hand surged forward and lapped at his cheek, leaving a tingling in its place. The corners of her mouth turned up in a watery smile placid as a lake.

"Figlio mio, io non sono convinto che si capisce. Siete davvero pronti per questa strada perché non si torna. I destini tracciare le linee della vostra vita. Si può scambiare uno per l'altro. Uno sarà tagliato e uno sarà risparmiato. Possibile per voi di tornare a casa da Tartarus." ("My son, I am not convinced that you understand. Are you really ready for this road because you do not come back. The Fates trace the lines of your life. You can exchange one for the other. One will be cut and one will be spared. It is possible for you to to return home from Tartarus.")

Sucking in a breath, he held it for a moment trying not to let his mind jump ahead of itself. There was a catch. Always a catch. The question was— what was it? His blood ran cold even before he spoke the words.

"Per tutti e due?" (Both of us?)


"Solo per uno di voi." (Only one of you.)

Nico's head hung for a moment, hair falling across his eyes. They would not meet hers, dark stones that they were amid the cascading water that made up the rest of her. She was beautiful in her own right and maybe it was just the whole elemental thing but she, in a way, reminded him of Percy. Steady and strong but dangerous.

Only one of us, he thought to himself. Another few seconds ticked by with the beating of his own heart. Lifting his hand, he rest it over his chest feeling the thump thump as he sucked in another breath. You're ready.

He met her eyes.

"Io sono il figlio degli Inferi. Vivo con la morte ogni giorno e non ho paura. Capisco. Morte non è qualcosa da temere." ("I am the son of the Underworld. I live with death every day, and I'm not afraid. I understand. Death is not something to fear.") He tried his best to hide the quake in his voice even as he spoke but they caught near the end. 

"Fammi sentire lo dici." (Let me hear you say it.) She smiled and it was not unkind. The changing currents of her face betrayed nothing; she was stoic in her stance.

"Giuro sulla Rivery Stige che io resterò dietro. Se solo uno di noi può lasciare Tartaro, giuro che non sarò io. Farò tutto quanto in mio potere per proteggerlo." ("I swear on Rivery Styx that I will stay behind. If only one of us can leave Tartarus, it won't be me. I will do everything in my power to protect him.")

Withdrawing her hand, she moved back and took in the sight of him. Bowing her head, she nodded and just as easily swapped back to English. "You have made an oath to me. A promise is not easily broken, little Ghost King. You will have my help." Holding out her hands, the sleeves of her dress lost little droplets of water to the ground. "In cambio, avrò la vostra vita."

Sucking in a deep breath, Nico nodded.

"I understand."

"I am very sorry for you, Nico di Angelo. Your story does not have a happy ending. There is never a happy ending when there is war. And this war will be bloody, cruel and merciless."

"War always takes children. "But we're demigods. We're more than children."

"You're much more than that, I can see it with my own eyes. I like that about you, son of Hades. You are neither Roman nor Greek , half blood or a god. You are the shadow of each."

"What happens to Percy?"

"I'm afraid that I can't answer that. You have made your oath, but I cannot tell you what may come to pass. I have to go, child of shadows. The giants are coming. They will soon find you if you don't hurry. When you need me, you will find me, and I will have a gift to help you."

She turned her back and just as she entered, moved to part the darkness with the movement of a hand and as she was disappearing through the curtain he shouted after her.

"Promettimi che ti risparmiargli la vita!" (Spare his life.)

When she turned, he knew then without asking, who his audience had been with. She smiled at him with all the sadness and weight that sometimes came with a river.

"Salva Percy. Sarò sempre lo ha scelto." He pleaded any fight going out of him; the backs of his eyes burned.

Save Percy. I will always choose him.

"I know, sweet boy."

She was swallowed by the blackness and Nico woke up.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Five

Piper Packs Punches

Piper


Being removed from a mission was more or less unheard of— and the only times that it did happen, something was massively amiss. The last time it had happened someone had nearly died and being sent back to camp with their entrails nearly falling out seemed like a self explanatory reason for not being allowed to continue. After all, the satyrs weren't really big fans of losing the demigods they spent so much time undercover in hopes of discovering and ushering to sanctuary. That, and Chiron frowned upon it.

For Piper it had been nothing so honourable as being disemboweled— and on a normal bad day that would sound like one of those silver lining things that self help books her father's various personal assistants might read because oh, hey, at least you weren't disemboweled. But no. That would have been completely favourable to what actually happened. And that was that her boyfriend, Jason Grace, has basically told her that she was completely untrustworthy and had benched her from her own mission.

At first she'd been furious, then she'd moved onto sappy music on the ipod depressed as she lay in her room wallowing. But after that? She'd gotten to suspicious. Something was clearly going on here and the daughter of Aphrodite might not know what but she did trust her gut instinct and something was really wrong. And not just wrong in the way that Jason had approached her on the deck of the Argo II to tell her that her powers were going as schizophrenic as her godly parent at the moment but off kilter in the way that Athena's daughter was allowed to make a grievance against her and the boy she trusted with everything hadn't been willing to stick up for her.

That never happened.

Something was going on and Piper had every intention of figuring out what.

She had been thinking on it for hours— from the point she'd turned off the sad/sappy playlist every girl had programmed onto their ipod (no really, even if they wouldn't admit it, they totally had one and Piper was no different). There was only so much to put together if large portions of the picture was obscured from view but she'd always liked puzzles even if she hadn't been terribly gifted at them. That was completely irrelevant because she was convinced (much like one of her father's personal assistants self help books) that if she tried long and hard enough eventually she would be successful. So that just took a lot of concentrating and trying to fit all the corners in place so she could build inwards.

That lasted until her brain felt like it was going to pop out her ears. Thinking took a lot of effort especially when you weren't really sure what it was you were looking for; maybe she had to give Annabeth a little credit. How that girl clicked everything into place twenty four seven was ridiculous. Her mother's gift unto her children must be immunity from tension headaches because jeez, Piper's shoulders were killing her. She was slumped over the side of her bed, head hanging down towards the floor, attempting to relax a little. Plus the blood rushing to her head made her a little woozy and that was a better feeling than mistrustful, upset, concerned, anxious, fretful and a whole other string of words that the aforementioned daughter of wisdom could probably come up with words a lot longer and prettier sounding to describe a little better.

Twisting her finger around the necklace she wore, she stared at the door in her room from the opposite to normal perspective upside down and low versus right side up and higher. Maybe the change of perspective would shake something loose in her head that wasn't coming to the forefront straight away. Or that was just one of the many things that made her fundamentally different than her other half brothers and sisters on her godly mother's side— she'd always been a bit weird. Piper sighed and sucked on her bottom lip until the last of the cotton candy flavoured lipgloss she was wearing was worn off completely; it wasn't something she normally took to wearing but lately she'd been making more of an effort for Jason.

"Ugh!" She growled just for the sake of using her own voice in a way that didn't merit her friends looking at her while they pretended not to. Since when had they been scared of her? Or what she could do? They all had gifts and they all used them to protect themselves and their friends and their world. And sometimes even their parents. Why did that make her different? Words weren't that powerful, were they? Certainly not as strong as Leo's fire or Frank's transformations or Percy's ability to turn into a one-man-storm. Or Jason's ability to make anyone extra crispy in a matter of seconds. Words weren't much in the long run. Not compared to all of that.

A pillow collided with the cabin wall as Piper threw herself into a sitting position. This was getting her nowhere. She only sort of hurt her little toe when she jammed her feet back into her slip on shoes (hey, not everything could be sneakers and hiking boots all of the time, sometimes a girl needed to have a few comforts of home even if they were small ones) and headed out. Only the door didn't open all of the way because it was too busy slamming into some unseen force on the other side.

"Ow! Son of a drunken drakon…"

"Sorry!" She shouted, all of the pomp and circumstance gone right out of her and second leg of her mini mission of finding out what was up forgotten. "Sorry… are you okay?"

"You weren't up top," was muffled by Jason's hand over his face, cupping around his nose. "I guess you didn't hear us come back."

Throwing a glance over her shoulder, Piper looked only a little guiltily at the ipod on her bunk that was still playing music. Fortunately she didn't crank it up nearly as loud as Leo so it wasn't apparent to the other demigod why she hadn't heard them. Buy why hadn't her friends gotten her?

Probably because they're too busy being scared of you. And believing Annabeth over you. The thoughts creeped into her mind like shadows crept into corners: a little too easily.

Her braid hit her shoulder when she turned back around and briefly snapped her back into reality. They were thin and like whips, snapping against the tanned skin of her shoulder exposed because she was only wearing a vest top (there was much to be said about the heat of the Mediterranean). Jason stood before her, blue eyes wary and blonde hair more static electricity than she'd ever seen it— probably because it was growing out from the short close-crop style the Romans preferred to the more carefree length that was associated with the Greek camp.

When he didn't move his hand away from his nose, her eyebrows knit together.

"I fink you might huv bwoken my noth?" He tried unhelpfully to answer the question she posed to him without words.

However angry she'd been dissolved right then as the red went from her vision. Jason was stood before her, she'd very nearly killed him with the door, and his nose was bleeding. "Shit," she swore in ancient Greek as she fluttered about her room looking for tissues. She came back with a handful and shoved them at him so he could clean his hand and plug his nose. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were about to come in! I was about to head up to the deck," she babbled apologetically, though a knot formed in her stomach.

Leave it to her generally perfect boyfriend to spoil a dramatic exit, and to make her seem foolish for being upset about that in the process.

Holding his free hand up— the one that wasn't currently covered in his own blood— he waved her off. "Dohn worry. Totally my fault. Should huv knocked first." Tilting his head back, Jason attempted to stop the bleeding by applying pressure as he pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand and plugged up the offending nostrils with the offered tissue.

Piper sucked her bottom lip into her mouth. Her hand breezed against his cheek, just barely touching, as she caressed him. Whatever her mind might want she wasn't able to stay raging at him for long. Especially not when he was looking pathetic and nose slightly crooked; now that she thought about it, it might actually need to be snapped back into place. Piper's knees were a little weak at the thought— they'd have to get one of the other demigods to do it. The choices weren't many as Frank would probably faint but Leo might be willing. After all, he was good with his hands and could fix pretty much anything. A nose shouldn't really be any different…

"Come on, let's get you cleaned up," she ushered him to the bathroom.

Jason sat on her bed with his eyes opened even though Leo had advised that closed might be best.

"I want to look you right in the eyes while you do this so you know how seriously I am when I say that I will fight you if you ruin my face."

Leo laughed but when Jason didn't join in went still (which said a lot for a son of Hephaestus who was always bouncing and tinkering perhaps more than any other demigod children). "Hah ha— oh well. No worries. I'm no son of Apollo or anything but give a little credit where credit is due, dude. What haven't I fixed so far?"

"Would you like a list?"

"Not really."

"What about the time you set the pavilion on fire—"

"That wasn't me! Just because I those firework prototypes were totally boss— you should have seen the massive ones I mean like if Chiron hadn't flipped after— doesn't mean I'm the one who lit the fuse. It was the Stolls they stole them…"

"Or the thing with the Big House…"

"Rachel said it was too dingy so I figured open plan living room… like open plan to the outside…"

"Or the…"

"Enough!" Piper snapped interrupting them. "Can we get this finished before it swells too much? It's only going to make it worse."

Both boys quieted and Leo gave a brief nod her way. She pretended not to notice the way that his eyes didn't quite meet her own. Turning around, she folded her arms across her chest and busied herself with the task of looking through some of her things as if to put them away or tidy. In the end she just moved them, never doing much more than displacing something already out of place.

A silence blanketed the room and was broken by the 'pop' of a bone going back into place, then punctuated by Jason's growl. Leo flew passed Piper, smacking into the back wall, the scent of ozone crackling in the air. He crumpled to the ground, his clothes smoking and a little burnt but fortunately not on fire.

"Jason!" Piper shouted, turning to face the other. A small trail of blood was trickling from the other's nose; he smeared it when he wiped the back of his hand across it. Shoulders rose and fell in a half hearted shrug.

"It hurt! Sorry, Leo, but man that smarted."

"Completely cool. Just a little… I'll just stay down here for a minute. Until I catch my breath." A half wheeze half chuckle left his lips as he stayed at the awkward angle on the floor.

Scrunching up his nose a few times, Jason nodded after a second. The first sign of bruising was forming under both eyes blossoming violet. The bridge of his nose was swollen and red but there wasn't ice or anything to hand to help with the fact it would probably keep ballooning up. Piper used her cornucopia to scrounge up a bag of ice. She'd never tried anything so specific and not exactly edible before but was surprised when a chunk of ice plunked on the ground. No bag but then again, maybe it could only handle things that were completely edible. Grabbing a towel, she wrapped the ice in it and handed it to Jason.

"Thanks," he mumbled as he lifted it to his face. His blue eyes met hers and he smiled— not the heart melting kind he normally gave her.

Then again, she didn't even know what had happened with Diocletian's sceptre. She was assuming they were successful but it had to be more complicated than that.

When aren't things more complicated than that? She mused. She couldn't remember the last time though it was probably some time prior to realising her heritage and even then… complicated had always been part of her lifestyle. Maybe she'd never really moved beyond that.

When they locked eyes, her stomach knotted.

"Hey, Leo? You mind giving us a few minutes. I want to talk to Jason."

"Ugh, yeah. Yeah, I'm going." The elvish boy pushed himself to his feet and waved his best friend and stumbled out into the hallway. "Uh guys? When you're done… might want to clean it up. Looking a bit grim out here what with Jason's face shape in blood."

"Oh gross…" Piper moaned.

"We'll clean it up in a second," Jason seconded.

Leo shut the door behind them and silence fell across the room again.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Six

Sneaking Into the Underworld

Hazel


 

"Don't you think it's sort of dangerous for you to come along?"

Hazel was climbing down from the Argo II in the dead of night with Piper not far behind. The other girl's brow was knit as she attempted to lower herself slowly down the rope, clearly not one of her strengths from the awkward way she slid a few inches and then a foot, probably taking much of the skin of her hands off in the process. Sucking on her lip, the daughter of Pluto only winced a little and gave the shortest of selfish thoughts. It was something along the lines of: please don't fall on my head, then we'll both wind up dying. Maybe she should have let the other demigod go first.

"Don't you think it's sort of dangerous for you to be heading back to the Underworld while your father's pretending he's oblivious you're not dead?"

The air around them froze but not from any drop in temperature or breeze in the air. Sucking in a deep breath, she shoved caramel curls out of her eyes and tucked them behind her ear (though they didn't stay long) and continued down without a word. Half a beat later the regret was viscous. "Oh, Hazel. I'm so sorry… I didn't mean that."

"No… it's fine. Don't worry."

"I'm really sorry. That was so nasty of me. I'm just… I need to get out. I can't stay on the ship."

"I know."

Somebody else might have had something to follow up with after that, but not Hazel. Not when she felt guilt bubbling in her core from the simple fact she'd witnessed something so intimate and disparaging on their mission to retrieve Diocletian's sceptre. And while she tried not to look any differently at Jason for it, Hazel's worldview had changed just a little bit. Who was he if he couldn't stand beside Piper? If they couldn't weather these storms? They were meant to be steady unlike the tumultuous world… but maybe those were thoughts more appropriate to her own time.

Still, it didn't change the fact that while she was descending from the Argo II one hand over the other, muscles quivering from the exertion, that her heart broke just a little for the head of the Aphrodite cabin. Their backgrounds, cultures and camps might be slightly different but love and heartbreak were universal. And love had not been kind to Piper at all. Despite that? Well, Hazel looked at her a little differently, too. Especially when Jason had come from whatever talk the two had been having (it couldn't have been pleasant, they knew that it wouldn't be not after meeting Eros). The way he carried himself, a quickness in his step and palpable purpose, the son of Jupiter then hoisted himself over the side of the ship and quite literally thrown himself off. He was quite the man on the mission. Fortunately, though Piper's charmspeak had forced such commands onto him, he was still a child of the sky and he'd only fallen about ten seconds before he'd summoned the winds and cushioned himself before colliding with the ground. No permanent damage done.

The split second before he might have hit was when Piper had emerged from underneath, tears in her eyes and hair falling from its signature braids. She was a mess of mascara and tear stains tied together by silence and judgement. Hazel, a child of the Underworld and Wealth but also of Grudges, could feel the latter in the air.

After that— understandably— Jason had flown himself up to the Argo II and climbed back onto the deck, nodded at Piper in a way that made clear he agreed that nothing further needed to be said about the situation going forward, and disappeared below the deck. Leo, Annabeth, Frank and herself stood in stunned silence with nothing else audible save for their untimely breathing.

Not a muscle had moved between the lot of them for a whole minutes and it was only broken by the fact that Frank (the big dweeb) had sneezed.

"What are you all looking at!?" Piper had snapped, spitting venom as she turned to them. Her eyes were hard as diamonds and her tongue just as sharp.

Jolted from their places, Annabeth had fled, following in Jason's wake without saying a word.

"I really am sorry," fell from above.

Hazel's feet landed on the ground. Stepping back, she waited for the other girl to finish climbing (or drop) down and stood back. Diocletian's sceptre was secured to her back along the side of her backpack; the girls weren't planning on a long trip to deliver the relic but things had a tendency to veer horribly off track. Better prepared than not, as her mother would have said.

"It's okay, but be careful you don't break your ankle. You could probably use some more climbing practice when we get back to the camps."

The laugh that followed was free from irony. "If we get back to the camps," she huffed, "I will use one of Nike's kids as my personal trainer. Just do it!" Her Native American friend only half fell on the ground at her feet but dusted herself off respectably and stood once more, holding a hand out to either side as if to indicate that her ankle was not in fact broken and yet, Piper had definitely succeeded albeit with less skin on her palms and slightly less dignity in her heart.

Maybe she was a few centuries behind, but Hazel felt pretty certain the last bit would stay that way for awhile. Even for a daughter of Love. But it wasn't her place to say anything beyond, "You know, if you need someone to talk to…"

"Thanks. I appreciate it but honestly, I'm not sure that I can? I know something happened," as the two fell into step beside one another over the dimly lit ground with just the moon to guide them (flashlights tended to attract the more easily amused monsters), Piper raised her hand and held it up as if to silence Hazel. "I know something happened but I'm not sure that I'm ready to hear about what it was yet. He mentioned Cupid and really, that's enough for me."

"We got the sceptre," Hazel agreed. It was the only concession that she would make for the moment and probably the only one her friend would want to hear.

"So how are we getting the rest of the way?"

"You're going to love this. Well, unless you don't like the dark. Or dogs. Or being kind of dizzy."

"Wait… what?"

"Oh. I mean, I can't shadow travel. Not the way that Nico can. I know we have the same father but… it's not easy. I tried once and I nearly threw up from the effort. I didn't get anywhere but I did get a blinding headache. We thought maybe eventually I'd be able to learn and we worked on it when he visited camp but I just can't do it. We aren't the same." The last sentence summed up everything about her and Nico.

They were children both out of time, and yet they had nothing else in common. Their growing up, their stories, their relationships, their interactions with people and the way they viewed the world. Everything was so completely out of sync. While it softened her heart and she'd loved the boy immediately, embraced her brother, she knew they'd never share similarities. Nico was just apart and while it saddened her, it wouldn't change.

"He's special in a way most people aren't." It was added as an afterthought.

Tugging on her braid, Piper tilted her head back and stared up at the twinkling lights in the sky. "So how exactly are we getting there?"

"Mrs O'Leary. I believe you've met her before."

She spun around like a top, eyes wide. Her expression said what her words couldn't.

"Oh, gods. Hazel!"

-------

Hazel stood back while Piper finished emptying the contents of her stomach into some dark crevice. Mrs O'Leary sat next to them panting and nuzzling the other girls hand. From her pocket she fished out some leftovers and a bouncy ball. The dogs glowing red eyes twitched with each tiny movement, her whole world revolving around the mere presence of the ball and the suggestion that perhaps it might just be hers. Puddles of drool were soon covering Hazel's sneakers and Mrs O'Leary was making the most pitiful noise she'd ever heard. Somewhere between a baby's cry and a sad dying llama, maybe.

"Oh Mrs O'Leary!" But she couldn't be mad. Instead she tapped her snout in thanks and then chucked the ball to let her go after it to her heart's content.

Once she had shaken off her foot, she moved over behind her friend and lightly lay a hand on her back.

"You okay?"

"Nnngh…" was the only response she got. A moment later with another wracking cough and a few less than lady like spits, Aphrodite's daughter straightened and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "I guess shadow travelling doesn't agree with me."

"It doesn't agree with most people," Hazel reassured.

They both lamented that in their packing neither had thought to bring some gum or mints. If only. Their toothbrushes were back aboard the ship along with everyone else.

"How long do you think before the others notice we've gone?" Piper whispered for the first time noticing the dark around them. They could see before them but not far. The girls hooked their arms together keeping one another close, equally supportive for very different reasons.

"They probably have. I left a note for Frank, though. It's fine. They knew that we had to bring this to Styx. We've just left a little earlier than originally planned. Moves the schedule ahead a little so we can get going to the Doors of Death, right?"

With a nod they continued forward. As good as Mrs O'Leary was, she wasn't a bus. The locations weren't exact and so they had to hoof it a little bit; both accepted this but Hazel was the one of the two who thought it was probably for the best. The longer Piper had away just to get herself to grips, the better.

She tried not to wonder about what had happened between Jason and Piper, or what was causing the other's gift to go askew. As curious as she might be, she also knew better. Her mother had also been curious— Hazel clamped down on the feeling.

"Why would people swear an oath on a river that separates the living from the dead?" Piper wondered out loud. It was ahead of them now, they could hear it though they couldn't see it.

"Some might say that death is the first oath we make when we're born. It's inevitable, it will happen to everyone in their own time."

"That's not morbid or anything," she muttered.

"I know… I thought so, too. But when I was little my mom told me a story about her. How she loved another so much it consumed her, she was burned up alive from her passion. I mean, I was just a kid so I never really got it but… that's really intense."

And sometimes, Hazel wondered if she would consume Frank or vice versa. After all, he could be consumed. His life line was very much tied to that piece of kindling and just waiting to alight at any moment. Sucking on her full lip, she pushed the feeling down and gripped a little tighter to her friend's arm.

Don't think such things. She scolded. There was enough on their plate without entertaining every possibility.

Piper remained silent.

Stood before the bank of the River, the girls exchanged glances and fell silent. For a few minutes they just stood there with nothing happening.

"Are we supposed to like chuck it in or something?"

"…I don't really see that being a good idea."

"Me either. But it might make you feel better. Or me better."

Both laughed. "Things will be okay, you know. It won't seem that way right now and I know that I don't really understood what's happened or how you're feeling but it will be okay. Maybe not today or tomorrow or for a little while, but it will. Promise." Hazel slid her hand into Piper's slightly larger one and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Her friend's eyes shimmered with tears but she blinked them away and ducked her head, nodding.

Do not make light of your promises, children, or you do me no honours.

The river surged forward, spilling up onto the banks, and before them appeared a beautiful woman. Her eyes were smooth pebbles and her hair caressed her sides a mix of waves and flowing multicoloured reeds. She smiled at them and flowed forward, not on feet, but still connected to her source. In her hands she cupped a small duck, petting it absently. Her eyes fell as she noticed their attention.

Ah, do not mind Flamey. How he wondered down here, I have no idea. Charon usually catches them much more quickly and yet he made it across, little rascal he is. I quite like him, though. He's both cute and feisty, much like your brother.

"You've seen Nico!?"

She inclined her head slightly saying nothing more on the matter.

Have you brought me the sceptre?

Piper was stood stock still, not moving next to Hazel. The girl had to unwind herself from the other, noting for a second the way the other quaked, before turning back to the Goddess. She unstrapped the sceptre from her back and held it out, but took it back before Styx could reach for it.

"How do I know what you'll use it for?"

I have no intention of using it. Dicoletian's plaything would be of little use to someone like me, child. But it would be much use to your friends. Where they go, there is not much hope beyond this.

"Are they okay?" Piper finally chimed in. "Are they alright down there? Both of them?"

I have seen them but I can tell you no more. It is just as I explained to you in the dream, Pippin.

"Piper."

You have brought the sceptre. Another has made an oath. I have promised my help and I will give it. Now please, there's not much time. They are close.

Hazel hugged it to her chest for a second and whispered to it. "Take care of Nico. Please bring him back safe. And let him know I love him." She kissed the sceptre as if sealing the words within its handle and pushed it towards the goddess.

Styx took it with her free hand and it disappeared somewhere inside the waters of her body or off to some other magical plane. Her attention turned back to Piper and fixed her watery gaze on her.

"Will it make a difference? In the end, will it be worth it?"

Hazel was surprised by the gravity of her words.

It will make a difference. But I cannot promise that it will be worth it, not in a way which humans understand.

And with that, she disappeared leaving them stood on the shadowy banks alone.

Piper took Hazel's hand in her own and squeezed it.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Seven

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Percy


Good. That word was so foreign to him because when was the last time anything had really been good? He couldn't remember and maybe (creeping around the edge of his thoughts), just maybe, it never had been. Perhaps things had always been bleak and bad and stretching on and on and on… he shook the thought away. Sitting up slowly, the demigod blinked sleep from his eyes. Waking for the second time in the massive bed had surprised him even after the sound sleep because good wasn't something that happened. Not down here.

Something had woken Percy but he wasn't too sure what; his brain, soft with sleep and not yet at full speed, was having trouble catching up. Long limbs stretched out letting the blood flow once more. After a few seconds of popping his back, cracking his neck and stretching out every limb he realised something was missing. There was no throbbing in his shoulder or side and the muscles felt more at ease. The pain was gone to his chest but the weight was present, hollowing and tugging, but his lungs were his own again and Percy could breathe without the pressure of the whole world pressing down on him like Atlas.

For a few moments the world was not terrible. Naturally, Percy was convinced that he must still be sleeping or dreaming because the concept was completely unrealistic. But then he looked down to the warmth at his side and tucked up under the mismatched patchwork quilt (made out of some kind of furry monster hyde— he wasn't really sure what kind but it was strangely soft and reminded him of bunnies, especially the occasional ear popping out) with back pressed to his side was a dark bundle.

The child of Hades was knobbly knees, elbows sticking out everywhere, dark hair curling up in every possible direction and long ebony lashes fanning across skin so pale it was nearly translucent like snow. But he faced out, toward the door and toward danger, with his sword clutched against himself as a kid just a few year's younger would cuddle a teddy bear.

The breath caught in his throat and he knew that he'd fallen asleep trying to keep watch and make sure his friend was okay and no danger came.

There's still good in the world, he reminded himself. And that good was laying right next to him and was he… yeah, he was pretty sure that Nico was sucking on his thumb. The sight was such a stark contrast to the rest of Tartarus that he couldn't help it: he burst at the seams and he laughed until tears were stinging his eyes. Nico jumped, Percy's hand affectionately combing through his hair.

"Wh—what! Are we being attacked? Are you okay!? Gods… what's wrong with you!?" The rumble that came from deep in Nico's throat sent a shiver up Percy's spine (and yet he just kept laughing because he'd started and he couldn't stop and fuck knew when he'd be laughing again) reminding him just how much the other half blood had grown up in his absence. The darkness came off him in waves, smoke nearly coming from his ears, and he couldn't help it. He clutched his sides and fell over, half draped across Nico's lap as the tears kept falling.

"It hurts!" He hiccuped clinging to his sides.

Emotions were a landslide across the younger man's face, pushing aside the death glare that was threatening to turn Percy to stone for having interrupted the other's sleep. "Where?"

It took less than a second for long fingers to probe their way beyond Percy's shredded shirt and search out every bandage attempting to uncover where exactly the other was wounded. For every bandage removed pale skin showed relatively unharmed save for the silver gleam of scarring over the healthy skin. They were lissome and soft in their prodding and the faint slide of fingers over his skin caused another fit of hiccups— Percy was laughing so hard he couldn't breathe or really laugh for that matter.

"S-sides!" He gulped trying to swallow precious air. The fact his sides were exhausted and splitting from something so trivial wasn't making it through Nico's thick skull because the other was still checking him over, dark brows knit in concentration. When they stopped moving, it was only because there was nothing the matter and the frigid look like permafrost penetrating the ground, made Percy snicker a little harder.

"You… you're not hurt?" The confusion was clear.

He shook his head, clutching to his sides and wiping tears from his eyes.

"Y-you… thumb! Sucking… y-your thumb! Gods, Neeks, you're too cute for words."

"Sto per ucciderti!"

The son of Poseidon didn't need to speak Italian to understand that the child of Hades very well might run his Stygian sword through him. Instead, he simply punched the other's shoulder repeatedly and threw him off his lap causing Percy to nearly roll onto the floor.

"Stronzo! Ti odio così tanto!"

When his breathing was steady once more, he lay stretched out across the bed grinning up at the other boy who was visibly simmering.

"Why did I save you?"

"Because the fate of the world depended on it. And I'm pretty amazing, that doesn't hurt either." The smile he flashed Nico was the biggest and brightest he had; the other half blood withered under his gaze. Pushing the blankets aside, Nico slipped from the bed and to his feet, turning away.

"Healthy sense of self importance you've got there, huh, Perce? Don't think too much of yourself or anything, do you?"

"Well compared to the fine specimens occupying Tartarus, I'd say you and I are shoo-ins for best looking. You'll definitely make number one most eligible bachelor."

A second later a pillow connected with his face— hard— and he shut up.

 

 

----

 

 

Nico attempted to talk their host into coming with them but Damasen refused and that wasn't to say that the other boy hadn't been convincing because he had been. There were plenty of reasons for Damasen to leave behind his lair and the daily fight with the Drakon that served as his never ending punishment.

"Please. I know we have nothing to offer you in the way of payment for taking care of us and helping us but it's a debt we'd like to repay. And if you come with us, you could get out, Damasen. Come with us, please."

"Please, friend. Just think… there is sky. It's been so long since I have seen the sky."

"And I. I do miss those— what are they called? Twinkles. The ones in the dark from above."

"Stars," Nico supplied.

"And the warmth on your face with the breeze looking up at the sun. Remember warmth, Damasen? Not heat but warmth and light?"

"It's like a dream, so many lifetimes ago."

"But it's not a dream. You could have that again, everything that was taken away from you. You could help us fight Gaea and when we win, you'd be free to go as you please. Our fathers will not punish you."

He had sighed and thought but in the end he had been moved but not persuaded. Instead he had sat them down and provided them with drakon skin clothing to replace the rags they were wearing. Nico had insisted on disappearing into the shadows behind a pile of junk to change, then again the boy hadn't exactly been exposed to high school PE and the locker room. Boy, he'd have a shock there because there were no boundaries. The discarded tshirt was tossed into a pile of rags— Damasen let nothing go to waste— and Percy felt a little badly for it.

How many things did Nico actually own? And it'd been destroyed again. When the boy reappeared he was wearing a drakon skin shirt and patchwork pants (probably the most ridiculous look the other had ever worn, especially considering it was a deep green and very far from the black he was comfortable with), but his bomber jacket was on top looking a little worse for wear. There was a drakon skin patch over one of the elbows.

Damasen had fed them and for the second time, Percy had a fully belly. He sent them along with a bundle of drakon jerky, a container of stew, and some of the broth Nico had fed Percy when he hadn't been well. It wouldn't last long but where they were going it would help keep their spirits more than it would help to heal. Percy couldn't really understand how that would be all that important as everything was shit in Tartarus so how could it be any more or less shit?

Wow. Was he wrong.

Percy and Nico followed Bob staying as close as they could what with the other's massively long legs which navigated the terrain more easily leaving the two to scramble in an attempt to keep up. The further they traveled the colder he felt, the darkness becoming thicker. Atramentous. Soon his lips were peeling, chapped and dry, the skin chafing as he tried to swallow and his tongue felt thick in his mouth. Between them, Nico and Percy shared a sip of the broth every now and again, trading it silently between them. More and more frequently their fingertips brushed as they passed the container back and forth but Nico, normally cagey at the best of times, did not pull his hand away like he'd been burned (and under normal circumstances he definitely would have so maybe the boy needed some human contact just as badly as Percy did then).

"Hurry. We must be quick. We have to get to her before they find you," Bob urged up ahead. Small Bob had nestled himself into the front of his coveralls completely disappeared proving, yet again, that he was the most clever of all of them.

Of course he's the most clever. He's not exactly on a suicide mission now is he?

The thoughts seeped into his mind, echoing the darkness around him. The further they traveled the more opaque Percy felt to his core, dark and anger and malicious spreading. It was like an oil tanker misjudging and tearing open its belly on the rocky ocean floor below, spewing its contents into the sea, polluting everything. It coated every pore suffocating and destroying. When he took another sip of the drink, it warmed him just a little and the demigod mustered up all the strength he had to push the melancholy aside and think of what lay beyond the Doors of Death.

Annabeth and her golden hair shining in the sun. Cool breezes and bottles of Mountain Dew Blue Lightning. His mother and Paul probably worried sick about him (since he hadn't exactly had time for the whole 'hey, I've been found and I remember' thing), but still willing to make him blue pancakes and a massive blue cake. Camp Half Blood and Camp Jupiter with all of the possibilities. The holiday that he and Annabeth had promised one another they would take though it felt impossibly long ago…

Maybe it wasn't real. Maybe this is it… this hell. It's pointless anyway, even if it were, because we won't make it. We can't make it. Not out of here.

It didn't surprise him that the next motion forward he made, he fumbled in his step and nearly fell to the ground. Nico's hand was on him in an instant, shooting out from his side and grabbing hold of his arm holding tight around his bicep. With a strength he couldn't have imagined the boy had, he yanked him up and kept him standing.

"Don't," was all he said and his dark eyes were smouldering, obsidian. Percy didn't question but not-so-smoothly choked on his own tongue. The other just glared.

And that's when they were attacked.

A hellhound jumped down from one of the craggy boulders jutting up from the ground next to them. He landed in front of them, growling and eyes glowing a deep red; he reminded Percy nothing of Mrs O'Leary. The demon cut them off from Bob, who was ahead and turned around. Small Bob was bristling up out of the coveralls and landed on his feet, spiking up and growing larger as he hissed at the canine.

"Watch out!" Nico yelled as the hound turned around and a moment later Small Bob launched himself at it and they disappeared in a cloud of dust and screams. There was no moment to rest (either from relief or worry) as paws started showering down around them, a whole heard of hell hounds soon surrounding them.

"Oh fuck me," the younger boy whispered and it was almost a comical thing in that moment because all Percy could think was that he'd never heard the boy swear like that before.

All things considered, he was shocked it hadn't happened a little sooner.

Growling, dripping jaws surrounded them, fur bristling as they barked and slobbered rivers of drool soon running at their feet. Anaklusmos was uncapped, growing in an instant. Nico had his Stygian sword drawn and was readying himself into battle stance. There was a moment of stillness where no one moved a muscle, not even Bob with his broom.

Then the picture came apart at the seems.

Three of the hellhounds— his ADHD had kicked in and he was able to estimate there were about twenty in total and from the quieter growling up above, he was willing to bet that wasn't all of the herd down there as there might actually be some hellhound pups in the wings— launched themselves forward at once. They ranged in size from a minivan to a small school bus and smelled even worse than burning diesel and dumpsters baking in the hot afternoon. Percy would have wanted to throw up if he wasn't busy slashing Riptide and rolling out of the way so he wasn't levelled by the monster.

Bob was conflicted, not wanting to hurt the animals, but not willing to be made a lunchable either. Nico was lost to him already, disappearing somewhere in the dark as he threw himself forward and back, jumping and dodging as he, too, slashed with his sword.

There were too many of them and they didn't wait, not like in action movies where they came one at a time replacing another as they fell. No, they descended like a dark cloud with many heads and eyes, hot breath everywhere. Percy was liquid, every movement fast and free flowing like a waterfall and he was crashing down on them but they were a stronger current.

It started as just one slash, being a little too slow and getting batted to the side by a massive paw, but he was able to keep the momentum to his favour by tucking and rolling out of it. He landed on his feet once more with Riptide at the ready and sent one of them back to dust a moment later but more were on him just as quickly. His reflexes had kicked in and he was a storm, moving like a hundred handed one though he only had two of his own they were everywhere. The next occasion, there were two of them baring down and as he ducked from one, the other lunged and the hellhound closed its teeth around his left arm.

Percy snatched it away just in time to avoid losing the limb entirely but it was slightly crushed and hurt like a son of a bitch. That only fuelled his anger at the whole situation and the calculating part of his mind was wondering when the giants would catch up because they would and they couldn't be long gone, unless Damasen had managed to throw them off the chase somehow. Maybe confuse them (that wouldn't be a difficult feat in the least).

For a moment he thought maybe they were doing alright and that between all of them they'd manage but that was before he got a little too close to the overhang. And before one of the hellhounds plummeted down from above crashing Percy to the ground like a wave and pummelling him. The hellhound huffed, its breath scalding and sickeningly sweet. In fact, he was pretty sure (as concussed as he probably was at that second because the back of his head was throbbing and he'd cracked it on a rock or a bone or something equally hard) there was a rancid piece of demigod flesh stuck between its teeth. Then again that might have actually been a whole leg at one time now partially digested and… was that a sneaker?

Not that it mattered much, the darkness whispered to him. It was always going to come to this and now he didn't have to worry about when it would end because it was ending now and it would be over.

"Percy?" He heard from far away. Nico's voice rose in pitch, but the half blood couldn't find his voice to respond. "Percy? PERCY!?" Despondence rang in his voice drown out by the growls of the hellhounds.

Riptide was somewhere out of reach of his fingers…

The growling swelled, growing in volume as the hellhounds circled. They swelled, howls of triumph had at the downing of a demigod and who knew what had happened to Bob or Nico? He couldn't see either of them.

As if answering (before the hellhound closed its jaws over his face), someone or something bellowed and it echoed through the air, guttural and raw. It sent chills up his spine and goosebumps across his skin. Pressure built in the air then and there was a strange whistling in his ears, deep inside himself he could feel pieces of him moving and shifting, compressing and moving in ways he wouldn't want them to.

What's happening? Was all he had time to think.

No longer concerned with the hellhound over him, he clung to himself trying to hold his insides where they were.

That's when the hellhounds howls died down to whimpers before building in pitch, the sounds coming from them were horrific. They bubbled and gurgled and shrieked like dying mice but so much louder. Even with the compression inside he had to clap his hands over his ears because he couldn't take hearing it another second, those pitiful sounds reverberating in the air boring through his skull.

The hellhound over him spasmed and burst into dust. He sat up slowly and looked around and one hellhound at a time did the same. Their eyes bulged out, tongues lolled to the side and they were torn apart from the inside by… nothing. But then they were gone.

And after a minute all that was left was Nico stood some ways away, dripping sweat, dark curls matted to his head and his face. His hands were clenched and he was trembling. A final hellhound fell from above, landing in front of him and before it had a chance to so much as wag it's tail the boy snarled and the thing ripped itself to shreds in front of him.

Nico stood heaving, his body trembling like the earth itself was unsteady but really it was just his legs turning to jelly. Moisture glinted in his eyes, streaming down his face. His eyes were hollow when they caught sight of Percy and his shoulders raised, resting a little easier. "Percy," he murmured the word barely carrying.

The Ghost King collapsed to the ground and the pressure dissipated leaving Percy's insides feeling normal once more.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Eight

The Earth Trembles

Nico


"Is he okay? I mean… is he even breathing? Because I don't think he's breathing."

"He is breathing."

"Okay. Okay okay. But… he doesn't look so good, man. I mean he's burning up. His skin feels like fire but he's still trembling. Can you even get a temperature down here?"

"Nico is okay. Lots of energy to kill so many monsters like that. He is fine just very very tired. The heat is from working like when there is too much running or walking and it is warm. He will cool down in time."

"And if he doesn't?"

"Then I imagine he will die."

"Oh well that's great, Bob. Just great."

The voices swam around him like warm currents. They were there and he drifted along with them but he wasn't capable of changing the tide any more than the tide was capable of stopping an earthquake. Nico was carried along with them, listening but not truly aware of what was going on beyond some budding consciousness taking root in his stomach and growing outward as he became more cognisant of himself.

And the shittiest thing, Nico di Angelo decided, about perception is that with it comes pain.

Every beat of his heart was felt inside of his skull, the muscle attempting to shatter through the bone and free itself to pulse in peace without restriction. There were the wounds, so minor in comparison, where a hellhound had bit at his shoulder and another had grazed its nails across his stomach. They stung but were just tiny little bug bites compared to the real agony and that was every single electrical firing off in his brain. Each cell was feverish, the fire spreading from his brain to his eyes, consuming his lungs and his arms and his torso and down his legs to his toes. There was no smoke but just because the flames weren't visible didn't mean they weren't licking his skin, greedy in their consumption of himself.

Nico's insides were boiling, stomach roiling and clenching all at once. His temperature rose and it rose until he was convulsing (and he became faintly aware in that far off not-quite-dreaming or out-of-body-experience sort of way that he was actually convulsing) and in his minds eye all he could see was red. Red background, red setting, red red red.

The deep vermilion of Tartarus and the copper of blood pumping russet rage flaring through him— just as it had when the hellhounds were teeming around them and Percy had disappeared in their midst. It had spread and he'd felt it building, the choler and the passion tipping him over the edge. His vision had gone just like the ground beneath him and he was wading in it— in red. In the rubicund that made up the monsters insides, feeling the tug of the earth from within as he always did when he manipulated the terrestrial sphere tied to his godly parentage… except it was more intense.

More intense because the focus was precise in a way it rarely was (because even practicing had been so morally grey it had frightened him into compunction and questioning his own humanity that such a power existed let alone lay dormant in himself). And it built and the tug of the earth was no longer the earth but the dust, the particles that made up all of life and they came from the soil like all things did, and it was the dust scientific in its exercising and they responded, each and every perfect piece.

And the execution spread the fire like lightning striking the ground in the middle of a drought. He was kindling too long without water and quick to catch.

Nico pulled apart each one of those monsters with the shattering heave in his gut, holding himself together by strength of will and little else. When they'd all fallen— each and every hellhound— so had he because he could feel them, their deaths thick in the air, and his body was on fire. Everything on fire.

"Hold him down. Oh gods, hold him down! Careful. Don't hurt him."

"His tongue…"

"I know I know I know. I've got it…"

His body was seizing, he knew that. And someone was shoving something in his mouth so, what, he wouldn't choke? Bite off his own tongue? Maybe if he bit it off it wouldn't feel like it was turning into ash, used coals in his mouth. Something— or someone— strong was holding him down, he could feel the pressure and it was a welcome relief to the burning.

"His eyes. Bob saw his eyes!"

"Nico? Nico… can you hear me? We've got you, okay? I've got you. Just hold on and we'll ride this out together, okay? Stay with us…"

Stay with you?

Who was he meant to be staying with?

No one stays. Everyone always goes.

"Stay with us."

Stay with… Percy?

Brilliant green. The soft sound of waves whispering towards the shore. Wind tousling jet black hair. The scent of salt and sand. A smile like a sunrise when all you had was the hope of another day (after the dusk of each previous day had passed). Eyes kind and as forgiving as the moon, and just as willing to let you slip away unnoticed and without question. Strength like the currents hidden beneath the surface.

Percy.

The memory imbued his insides, light chasing shadows. It was a crusade against the cerise contagion of Tartarus, offering a salve to suffocate the inferno permeating each cell.

"I have you, Nico. I promise I have you."

Little by little his limbs became his own once more, his body no longer alien to himself. Inch my inch his muscles stilled, but still he wasn't able to bring himself to move. He was so tired. Exhaustion made him want to close those eyes and drift back off once more but apparently that wasn't in the cards because Percy started screaming and shouting at him straight away.

"Don't you dare! You wake back up. Wake back up right now!"

Waking is so hard, he wanted to say but he couldn't.

He was impossibly thirsty, lips dry and chap. What he wouldn't give for an ice cold glass of Sicilian lemonade or something equally crisp and cool.

Just a few more moments and I promise that's it. A few more moments just to catch my breath.

"Nico, wake up. Come on, buddy, wake back up. I've got you. I'm right here. I promise I'm right here."

Arms slipped under his shoulders and hooked around his back, one hand supporting his head. They pulled Nico upwards until he was half sitting and the warmth that budded in his stomach sprung to life in the rest of him. His eyes were still far away, not fully focusing on what was in front of him when something tickled the demigod's cheek.

Nico inhaled and the scent of the sea filled his nose and his heart. "I've got you," breath tickled the top of his ear. "I'm not leaving you. I won't let you go." The arms around him tightened, lifting Nico a little higher and supporting him against the other boy's chest.

Percy?

Breath rushed into his lungs, filling all the empty spaces in a loud gasp. Nico's hand shot upwards grappling at the other demigod's arm and sleeve until he found his hold and it anchored him there. With what strength he had, he reeled himself in and up, a boat mooring itself to the shore. The intake of air made his head spin, dizzy from the oxygen replacing the deficiency. Or maybe it was the warmth of the body he was pressed up against as he threw his arms blindly, a ballast.

"Gods, Nico!"

"Percy," he whispered, the name catching in his throat.

A hellhound hadn't made him a sea-flavoured snack, ripping into his flesh and tearing him apart but most importantly— most importantly he wasn't dead. Relief swept through him and Nico surged forward, arms clasping around the other boy tighter. With relief. With anger. With regret.

The weight of losing the Sea Prince off his shoulders was replaced with the gravity of what he'd done. The earth reached for the sea, tears pricking the backs of his eyes, words not finding their way past his lips in anything more than a snivel.

"Nico? Ni— shhh… it's okay. You're okay."

"I-i… b-but… I thought you were—"

The son of Poseidon enveloped him closer and rocked the Italian boy where he kneeled, fingers combing through the younger half blood's hair. He smoothed at the curls that wouldn't be tamed but didn't mind being caressed. A shiver ran up the Ghost King's spine.

"Please. A couple of hellhounds?" The words were whispered, just between the two of them. "Takes more than that to get to me, Neeks. Hell, Tartarus hasn't killed us yet. A few fucking hellhounds aren't going to do the trick, now are they?"

A few hellhounds nearly did, he thought but his voice was tucked away snug inside himself somewhere waiting to be found.

This is a trick, another part of him whispered. He might be real but you're not. Remember what she said? Just one of you. Maybe you've already done your part. Maybe you've helped him all that you can. The darkness seeped into the corners of his mind and repose grew in his stomach— the kind that anchors when you're waiting for the inevitable "finally" to be said and then that's it.

But breath tickled the top of his ear and he felt the warmth of a mouth accidentally— inadvertently?— brush the top of his ear.

For the first time since Tartarus, no, since before Tartarus, before Bianca, he felt something inside of him waking up.

Life.

The tremors began again, shooting through his body once more but this time, not from the exertion with the ire and the grief. His body quaked at the relief and the passion pouring out. Nico had to be sure it was real so he inhaled again. What he had done… to each of them… it had taken a toll that taxed his body and his mind. How he'd killed them. All of them. How he'd felt them: the before, the during, and their death hanging over him after. The sounds they made.

"I c-couldn't do it… not again. N-not alone, Per—" But his throat closed before he could finish the name.

"Shhh… I know. You don't have to, Nico. I'm here, okay? I've got you. We're going to do all of this together and we're going to make it out together. You and me." Nico turned his head into the touch of fingers still brushing through his hair and down the back of his neck trying to calm him. But he clung to the other boy just the same, his tears dampening the drakon hyde shirt that Percy was wearing.

Percy didn't say anything about it and the son of the Earthshaker was the rock that steadied the quaking earth.

Nico pulled away, rubbing the tears from his brown eyes with the back of his hand (as it turned out, drakon hyde wasn't very moisture absorbent but rather quite the opposite). "Sorry. I think I snotted on you a little bit."

The other demigod glanced down and laughed softly, shrugging his shoulders. "There's a first time for everything." And then he ruffled Nico's hair, his hand pausing a moment as he wiped a stray tear from the other boy's cheek.

"We're going to be okay somehow."

Smiling, the younger halfblood nodded. There was no point in thanking him because words wouldn't mean anything not in the way that could convey anything meaningful enough. Inside of his chest, his heart wrenched and he was briefly aware that maybe he should be more expiatory or ashamed but at that moment? He was just too tired to give a fuck about any of that.

The gods were asking enough of him without piling on his own self-reproach.

"I'm glad you're okay," Bob piped up from the side. The Titan had kept watch over the boys with Small Bob tucked safely (once more) inside of the bib of his coveralls.

"But we must hurry. The giants are coming. They will be here, soon."

Nico shot a frail smile at his friend, thankful that Bob had helped to keep them safe. And moreso still that he hadn't told Percy exactly what had happened— he expected a little bit more distance if that had been the case. Taking Percy's hand when it was offered, he pulled himself to his feet and brushed himself off. Not that there was much to brush off besides the settling dust of monsters waiting to reform but even that was enough. He didn't want any of the hellhounds on himself. Not even their ashes.

Standing, he wasn't steady on his feet and misstepped but Percy caught him snatching him up and settling him back once more offering a smile. Brown eyes locked with green ones for a long second before he broke away and fumbled with the Stygian sword reattaching it at his side.

"We need to go."

They left, Nico ignoring the pulsing in his head, moving as quickly as they could towards Bob's bright idea which, to be honest, sounded better than what they'd just been through regardless of results.

Jogging over the terrain (there wasn't any time to waste now and the Feast of Spes was breathing down their necks like the giants on their heels), he ignored the heaviness in his heart or the tension with each beat and each step. Something inside of him was unsound but he pushed the thought aside.

And briefly let himself get lost in thought about a certain demigod.

"What happened back there?"

"What?" Nico sputtered a little, turning to face the other as they ran. He knew full well the question was coming. Bob was just ahead of them and he looked behind, eyes silver and soft— but more than anything, knowing.

"The hellhounds. The way that they… you know…"

Percy's voice felt flat in the air but the important thing was that he wasn't accusing or angry. Just curious.

Part of him wanted to ask when the other demigod realised that he could shake the earth or become a tropical storm or a hurricane? Tap into powers so naturally rooted within himself. Because all of those things were so immensely powerful, heart stoppingly beautiful and there was no questioning as Nico had stood there observing Percy Jackson a true life hero that these things were verging on the divine. Having witness that, Percy at home in his element, there was a vitality there in mastering his godly parentage's element. And a sense of belonging so completely exactly where he was and who he was.

Instead of any of that, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked forward refusing to meet the inquiring emerald of the Sea Prince's eyes. "Dunno, Barnacle Brain," he mumbled but the words lacked any spine.

"Nico." He said.

"It's not like it is for you," Hades' son replied quietly.

"Bob said you'd practiced before."

"When I found out… what I could do. I had to. To make sure that I could control it and everyone would be safe." Pushing himself, Nico ran a little bit faster, his lengthening legs allowing him to carry more speed. Not that he was running away from Percy or anything because he knew the older halfblood would be able to keep up without any trouble.

"And what is it you can do?"

The look he shot him was dark but Percy was unflinching, remaining at his side.

You knew this was coming, he chastised himself.

"The water is your element. Mine is the earth. I can feel death all of the time. Even here. But I can't control it, just sense it. But the earth… I can control the earth and we're all made of the same things, Percy. Just dust and ash before we're born and dust and ash when we die. Just like the earth."

"So you ca—"

"Yes." The word was hoarse, his heart breaking a little. Nico had always wanted to be special (and boy, being a real life hero was a sure way to be special, according to the wide eyed child with the Mythomagic cards) but he'd never wanted to be different.

"And back there?"

"I thought you were dead. I couldn't…" What Nico couldn't say was how he felt, exactly, or why it'd happened. It'd hit him like a landslide and he'd been buried deep in the emotions unable to breathe. And it had just happened. "I couldn't stop it from happening. I didn't want to stop it from happening but I can't do," he waved his hand and he knew that Percy would misinterpret 'this' for Tartarus rather than anything more meaningful, "without you."

"I'd be lost without you."

And maybe he just meant in Tartarus but his green eyes were kind, he smiled again, and Nico's heart felt a little more calm. But when Percy took his hand and squeezed it, his heart nearly burst out of his chest. Nico turned away to hide the flush to his cheeks and did something he never did: smiled.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Twenty Nine

En Route

Percy

 


 

They ran in silence punctuated by the rhythm of their feet and sharp intakes of breath.

That, and the sound of monsters hot on their tail. Somewhere along the way Polybotes and his gang of merry monsters (because honestly to keep from being so depressed he dropped to the ground and just stayed there picturing them like Robin Hood and his men in tights was really helping for the last fifteen seconds) had caught up and their grunts and shouts could be heard from the distance. Not that Percy could begrudge Nico that— after all, the kid had kind of saved both of them.

And the display of power was fantastically impressive. Sure, he knew the child of Hades was strong because he'd seen him crack open the ground and summon the dead on multiple occasions including one of which they were summoned to try and hurt him but he'd totally forgiven Nico for that one. He'd just been a kid and after news of Bianca's death, well, if Percy had been a child of Hades and he'd lost one of his family and the roles were reversed? He was positive that Nico wouldn't have walked away as easily as Percy had that day. But all things aside, it was different to see that kind of power.

To see Nico— even from his vantage point of looking up at a bus sized dog ready to turn him into fishy flavoured kibble— emanating that kind of raw power? A lot had changed in the few years he'd lost track of Nico; he would have said 'they' lost track but he was developing a gut feeling that Nico had never really lost track of him except for maybe a few months before New Rome. His mind kept reeling back to the bright eyed boy with the dark locks and the slight not-quite-lisp (but his front teeth had been a little too big for him at first now he'd grown into his own pearly whites and they were impressive so far as smiles went when he could actually get the guy to smile), who bubbled with barely contained energy so ravenous to learn everything and see everything and do everything. Who was so baffled and excited to be a demigod when all other children just wished to remain children, tucked safe at home in their beds with their parents. So enthusiastic and happy.

In his place ran the shadowy boy— young man— next to him all long lean muscle growing into his gangly limbs, sinewy but strong, with deep shadows colouring the pale skin under his eyes. He would grow into those muscles but he couldn't picture all of the sharp angles of his bones ever quite fading though maybe they'd strengthen a little as he continued to grow. He was silent now, always so quiet and reserved never breaking the solace first. When he did move, it was with the power of the earth, strong and sudden and uncontainable. He had a temper boiling beneath the surface like magma. Nico was tectonic plates converging and over time he was Mount Saint Helens.

The Sea Prince had known he could control the earth and the dead but the dust, the very particles that made up everything, that made up himself…? He had always respected the other boy, respected (though disliked and disagreed with weren't strong enough terms) his father but Percy had a new regard for the Ghost King.

A new awareness of the hero's sadness settled in Percy's gut.

He shot a glance over his shoulder to the other noticing not for the first time that Nico's sight remained fixed ahead with the occasional dipping to the ground to make sure he didn't trip and fly face first over the irregularities in Tartarus' ground. It'd been that way— stuck forward, anyhow— since Percy had taken the younger boy's hand.

It was still gripped tightly in his own; for some reason, he just couldn't let it go.

Maybe it was to reassure himself that the other was still beside him because even with Bob travelling ahead, Poseidon's son would have caved under his own loneliness without Nico. Was part of it because of what had happened? Yes. As powerful as Nico might be he was also fatally frail in the moments following.

"Promise me you won't do that again," he found the words leaving himself before Percy pegged the voice down as his own.

Brown eyes caught his for a fraction of a second (and he caught the haunting shadows darken just a little under the boy's eyes), before they shattered the hold and turned away. If they'd been doors they'd just slammed shut and left Percy standing alone in the hallway. "I understand."

"N-no, Neek. I don't mean like ever I just mean down here, okay? You… after that y-you were in a bad way. Like convulsing and overheating and you were TKO'ed, right? If we got separated… if Bob hadn't been there… you'd be vulnerable. Just promise you won't? Not until we're back up top."

"I won't do anything that's not necessary." The words were as cold as they were diplomatic. They weren't exactly comforting but not wanting to make his friend feel any worse, Percy squeezed his hand.

He didn't miss the faint colouring of cheeks as Nico consciously kept his gaze anywhere but on the other.

Percy didn't miss the fact that Nico was breathing harder than normal, even for the unnatural gravity of Tartarus. Or that he was sweating rivers, again, not really normal for the other who always ran a few degrees colder than everyone— maybe from all the time in the Underworld or hanging out with the dead? But it was dripping from his black hair in buckets and his chapped lips were bleeding a little either from exposure or from being bitten. Overall, he wasn't looking well. What he'd done to save his older friend (well, technically older as in physically not as in counting the eighty some odd years Nico might have had on him as in like birth year)— or because he'd thought his friend was dead— had taken everything out of him.

If Nico was the earth, he looked like a field that hadn't had its crops rotated enough and the soil was going barren.

Wow, I'm actually pretty clever sometimes, Percy thought to himself.

He nearly took flight as the toe of his shoe caught on the ground and Percy stumbled, not letting go of Nico's hand in the process. Which really made things awkward because on top of tripping he also dragged Nico down with him, throwing the still exhausted boy off kilter. He wasn't surprised when he faceplanted in Tartarus not throwing his one free hand out in time to catch himself.

When he pushed himself up off the floor wiping the blood trickling from his nose and splattering into the dirt, sea green eyes met Nico's obsidian ones. They froze him with a gaze like permafrost— rock hard and cold— and Percy did the one thing he could do. He laughed and he grinned.

Nico, on the other hand, blinked six times before rolling his eyes and scrambling up back onto his feet.

So much for being clever.

 

--------

 

"This way," Bob encouraged.

The deeper they walked the harder it become to focus. A chill ran its frosty fingers up his spine and Percy wrapped his arms around himself as they continued on.

Where are we going? What are we doing?

Whatever point there was, he couldn't remember. Not right then. But part of him knew that he had to follow the slight silver luminescence ahead of him.

But what's the point of going forward? What are we going to achieve?

No. No, you can't think that way. There is a point.

He tried to call to mind something to put things into perspective. Montauk and the beautiful beaches, the crisp sea air where he truly felt at home splashing in the waves as long as he could remember, collecting shells and talking to the fish even before he knew that's what he was doing. Camp Half Blood and Cabin Number 3 with its beautiful salt water fountain in the middle and the sea shells on the ceiling and reflection that made the entire inside feel like a bubble under the ocean. The first time he kissed Annabeth, truly properly kissed Annabeth not just as a friend who was relieved to see her but the first time it meant something more.

None of it sparked any warmth within him, like a dream when you wake up. All of it felt like a dream. Only Tartarus and the pain and the sadness and the violence was real. No happy thought was going to help him fly away.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught movement, sluggish and confused. He struggled to pull the name to memory but when it came it was sudden and blazing.

Nico.

The pit was speaking to him, warping his perception, sucking all of the light from him. How had Nico done it the first time without going insane? But the look on his face— he was stumbling now directionless, his face pale and features taunt. Until today he'd never seen the other boy cry save for that time when he was ten buy tears were streaming down his face once more and whatever song the pit was singing to him was despairing and hopeless; he could see it on his features.

If Percy was having a hard time in the pit, what strings was Nico grasping at? Because life hadn't been kind to him, not for a very very long time. Maybe not ever.

Grabbing his hand, Percy pulled the other half blood toward him and slung an arm around his shoulder, leading him forward towards Bob. "Come with me, Nico. We have to keep going this way."

"This way," he echoed, barely a shadow. His eyes looked ahead but Poseidon's son wasn't certain that they were actually seeing anything and if they were who knew if it was registering as any kind of sense in the other boy's mind. He could be seeing anything, really.

That's when he started whispering, his mouth close to Nico's ear. Whispering about New Rome and Camp Half Blood and the things he loved most about both. Maybe some of them would be things that Nico liked, too, because honestly it was hard to know what Nico liked beyond this image he had of him at the age of ten. The waves lapping at the shore and the smell of barbecue wafting over the beach, capture the flag and war games, blue birthday cake and sitting around the campfire. The words fell on unhearing ears and the other boy didn't snap out of his stupor, feet carrying him forward clumsily.

He held him a little tighter, pulling Nico closer as he helped to carry him forward deeper into the depths. Bob stopped, watching, and he never would have thought it but seeing a Titan sucking on his bottom lip in worry could in fact happen. "Is he okay?"

"The pit," was all Percy answered.

Wringing the top of his coveralls in his massive silver hands, Bob watched on worried, slowing his pace so they could follow.

"When we get out, Nico, you can teach me how to play Mythomagic. I-i think Hazel said one time that Frank liked it, too. You can teach me to play and then we can have a tournament or something. You and me and Frank. Zeus' sandals, we can probably even get Jason and Leo to play, too, yeah? Like a guys night or something. Across camp experience." Sucking in a deep breath, Percy rubbed at Nico's upper arm trying to build some warmth back into him— his lips were starting to develop a blue tinge.

"Guys' night?"

The words came out a whisper but Nico blinked a few times and started to come around.

"Yeah, a guys' night. Or, if that's not your thing, maybe you and I could hang out. I know I haven't always been the best friend to you… actually, I've been kind of a really shitty friend to you, Neek. But after all of this, maybe we could do something. I know it sounds corny and junk but get to know one another better. Us kids of the Big Three gotta stick together, you know? And if you need someone to talk to— I mean, I'm positive that Bob has been great and all," he flashed a smile to the Titan, "but if you want to talk to another demigod… you know, about what you're going through. About your powers and how it… feels, I guess… that's okay, too."

The words escaped Percy in a rush. Normally he wasn't one for so many things said all in a row because he was the spontaneous and jokester type not the deep emotions and talking about all kinds of feelings type, but if Nico was slipping, he wanted to keep him from going over the edge. He wore the last trip to Tartarus in his eyes when he'd gotten back. To have a second notch in his belt— Percy couldn't imagine that. Especially not having done it without anyone to share the burden.

Nico sucked in a breath, some of the colour returning to his features and chasing a few of the shadows away. He turned his head to face Percy but with the Sea Prince's proximity their noses bumped. Percy leaned back just a little so he could actually see the warming expression. Nico's cheeks were on fire, red burning a contrast to the porcelain of his skin and making the deep bruises under his eyes that much darker.

"S-sorry. I didn't realise you were there… so close. I kind of… the pit. It was talking to me."

Percy squeezed the younger man's shoulder and pressed their foreheads together for a moment, eyes focusing on Nico's. "Don't worry. I've got you."

He got a shy tilt of the head otherwise known as a nod in response and brown eyes dropped away with a small smile. "I know."

"Next time, I'll take you somewhere nicer."

"Yeah, like where?"

"Well, actually, if it's going to be nicer you should probably take us. Shadow travel and all. Otherwise we're restricted to the whopping… five dollars and sixty three cents I still somehow have in my pocket."

"You're hopeless."

"Yes, hopeless!" Bob piped up. "That means we are close."

Whatever they were close to, Percy knew they were going to find out soon, and he was still on the fence about finding out— mostly on the side labeled 'don't want to have a frigging clue.'

Stronger in his steps, he and Nico continued forward but just as they'd linked hands before, this time they stayed with Percy's arm around the other's shoulder. It wasn't ideal for a fighting stance but if they had to lean on one another to keep the other from succumbing to the pit, then so be it. And Percy kind of felt better for the contact.

When he broke into their rations for food, he tried to hand a piece of drakon jerky to the other demigod. At first, Nico shook his head trying to refuse but met with the son of Poseidon's less-than-impressed face, he took some and slowly started eating it. Even if he picked at it, at least it was better than nothing. Percy, however, was tucking into it three pieces at a time. His stomach might have shrunk from consuming nothing but liquid fire at first but he was throwing the food back like it was his last meal. The fact that it potentially could be his last meal, while depressing, also made him want to enjoy it that much more. He'd fought too many times on an empty stomach. Today would not be another one of those days where, in the midst of battle, his stomach let out its own war cry. That had the opposite of scaring monsters away.

The dark parted, invisible hands pulling back some kind of curtains or raising the mist from their eyes. Bob stood, still, and motioned with one massive hand in front of him. There was a field, not in the sense of lots of vegetation, but a dirt clearing. Earth would have been a little more moist, a lot healthier looking. This land didn't look like it could sustain anything at all.

"We are here," Bob announced.

Here was a melancholic meadow as barren as a crop in the midst of a draught. Surrounded by sharp rocks was a woman, hunched in the dirt. Even from a distance, Percy could see she was emaciated. Her dress was tattered and soiled, and hung off her in ribbons. Her elbows were razor sharp and her knobby kneels swollen and inflamed. Around her pooled moisture and it took him a second to realise that she was the source, not some kind of Tartarus-born spring. Up and down her shoulders heaved as she wailed, body convulsing with each wail. Hair hung down her back in stringy patches, dusty and greasy at the same time, sticking in dreadlock like strands (but no where near as clean as the time Grover had decided that was the look for him). Her skin was a sickly green, weathered and beaten like old leather and when she cried, his heart felt like it stopped beating in his chest.

"We are here," Bob announced again. "Akhlys will help."

"We're never going to get out of here," he whispered to Nico, his own throat tightening.

Nico turned to face Percy, clutching at his hand and squeezing it in his own.

"You were made for so much more than Tartarus. Your story won't end here."

The Ghost King held his gaze and, swallowing, Percy felt warmth surge through him. He nodded and squeezed the boy's hand back.

"Our story." And they stepped forward.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Thirty

Death Mist

Percy


The first thought to cross Percy's mind besides life is pointless, we should end it all, we're never going to make it, everything is futile, no really we're all going to die was that this had to be Bob's idea of a joke. The second thought after wow, this is sadder than when Annabeth listened to the sirens songs and went mental and tried to drown herself and nearly punched out all my teeth when I tried to save her was confirmation to himself that Bob was completely serious. No joking here, LOL.

In the barren field before them, the ghoul continued to moan, her cries darkening Percy's mind. The closer they got the harder it was to step and his knees nearly buckled if not for Bob's hand on his elbow. Whoever this Akhlys was, she bore a striking resemblance to the previous Oracle of Delphi— not Rachel. The one before that.

Between the desiccated skin and the serious case of split ends, like seriously her hair was probably about seventeen different lengths and not in the punky skater kind of way, she looked like a dried out corn husk. Or this mummy he'd seen in a museum one time. And that was precisely why she reminded him of the previous Oracle of Delphi. Pretty similar skin pallor as well, that whole sickly greenish colour that looked like something his mom found under his bed that summer he was trying to grown his own garden by leaving half eaten bowls of food under his bed.

As they got closer, Percy noticed a shield she was clutching in her hands. It obscured her face and he was glad for that, if there was any such thing as being glad anymore. He shook the thought off and held fast to Nico's arm.

"Akhlys!" Bob boomed, voice carrying across the barren field.

Small Bob was hidden, once more, inside the front of his coveralls. In the last few minutes, though, whether the little demon cat was growing more brave or it just couldn't believe what a terrible idea this was (he could totally sympathise), he'd popped his head up and out of the clothing. A paw hooked on either side, he was gazing around in what could only be described as a wide-eyed manner for a skeleton cat— creepy but cute in a way that was probably something Nico was far more accustomed to, demonic pets from the Underworld and all, than Percy.

She lifted her head and the Sea Prince's stomach flipped out. As in, nearly flipped out of his mouth. To put it kindly, if he'd had more than a few sips of stew and some drakon jerky in his stomach he would have been the first demigod to ever blow chunks all over Tartarus. Fortunately that didn't make his list of firsts.

Peering out from the shield, he dropped his eyes and wished she'd disappear behind it once more. Her face was taunt, skin stretched across bones, and her eyes were a milky— the murk did nothing to soften her sharp gaze on the two demigods. Blood dripped from her cheeks, long claw marks marring her already imperfect skin. It was leathery, as was the rest of her, and she looked like a doll without enough stuffing. Her joints were swollen but sharp, and she looked like she could use about seven hundred cheese burgers. Or a hug. Not that anyone would get close enough for a hug.

Her eyes were weeping and her nose was a faucet, snot dripping from her face and down onto her clothes almost as quickly as the blood pooled from her cheeks, spotting the dirt caked tattered piece of fabric she called a dress. Cobwebs clung to her limp hair and dust was piled thick on her shoulders. Her fingernails were long— not long in that New York fashion kind of way older teenagers and women tried to get away with as in they could hardly use their phones or type or do anything without catching them, but long as in World Record long. The tips were tinged with red and if he wasn't mistake, probably her own flesh was stuck under them. There were definite crusted chunks going on and they looked remarkably like the holes in her face but Percy didn't inspect any closer lest he vomit all over himself because queasy didn't even begin to describe it.

In the end, he had to look away. Not only was she revolting but the thoughts were being pushed aside by the desolation overtaking him. Catching on now, he had to remind himself, it was the pit whispering to him. Maybe she was helping, weaving some kind of sorrowful spell, but he couldn't fall into that trap. They were here for a purpose… even if he was having a hard time remembering what it was…

Green eyes caught onto something at her feet. A gold shield, strong but beautiful. On it was carved a likeness of the woman over and over again, a never ending reflection. It was familiar but he couldn't place it, not that he could place anything anymore. Did anything really have a place? Because it was all pointless…

"Hercules," Nico piped up, linking his arm with Percy's. The weight of the other boy's arm on his anchored him, reeling him back towards reality. In that time. In that spot. They had a mission and Nico and he were keeping one another alive. The Doors of Death… they had to meet the others to help save the world. The memories came flashing back, a series of images and snippets of conversation.

He shot a grateful look to the other.

"Recognise this, do you? Isn't it absolutely dreadful? Not an accurate likeness at all. I'm so much more dismal, don't you think?"

Bob nodded eagerly. "Oh yes, very dismal. Akhlys is the most woeful of all."

Her thin lips stretched into a grimace that might have been a grin if she had any meat to her face at all but as it was it was the stretching of skin across rotting and crooked teeth that would make most Gods he'd met shrink back— especially if there was a god or goddess of teeth. Percy didn't know one but if there was some kind of orthodontic obsessed god? They'd faint.

"Why have you brought these two children to me? That one," she motioned a gnarled hand towards Nico, "that one I can see. He's absolutely ominous but this one," with the other gnarled hand she motioned to Percy, "far too, what is the word…"

"Cheerful?" Bob supplied helpfully.

Akhlys screeched in pain, the kind of high pitched scritching noise that was reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard but more depressing than irritating. Percy slapped his hands over his ears, same as Nico, and both boys flinched.

"Really, such language! I may be a grievous Goddess but you really should watch your tongue!"

Bob slumped his shoulders, caving in on his massive self. Small Bob mewled helpfully.

"And what is that beast!?"

"Small Bob."

"Get that away from me… it's just… it's so…"

"Cute?" Bob said.

Akhlys screeched again, gouging larger holes in her cheeks. The blood ran down her cheeks more freely, the new wounds joining with the other gaping holes. Her tattered dress became even more polka dot'ed in blood all the faster.

"I think I've lost the will to live," Percy mumbled only half sarcastic to Nico who snickered behind his own hand.

"Enough!" Bob roared, both confused and upset by her wailing. She stood a little straighter and paid him attention. "Bob brought them here to hide them. You control the Death Mist. They must be hidden."

"Oh this is a terrible idea," he groaned.

"Absolutely terrible!" Akhlys agreed. "Hide them… why would I do that?" She gurgled and was very possibly choking to death on her own snot at that point which was only slightly less revolting than the alternative, which was that she was attempting to laugh. Somehow, Percy was pretty sure the hag wouldn't know a good belly laugh if it burst from her own mouth.

"To help them. Because you are the only one."

If her features weren't so weather worn and battered, the son of the sea might have mistaken some twitching in her emaciated face to be a quirking of the eyebrow. But he couldn't completely dismiss the look, either. "The armies of Tartarus will find them."

"Well that's helpful," Nico sighed. He stood straight, face cold and features unmoving. Somehow he managed to look bored. "I mean, I understand you're pretty pathetic and everything but I definitely thought the whole Goddess of Misery thing would be a lot more powerful." Arms folded across his chest, one hand holding to the opposite elbow. "Not some whiny halfwit. And I definitely never thought that I would be more powerful than her." Nico turned to Percy and shrugged a shoulder. "No harm. I can control the Death Mist, too."

Percy furrowed his brows. Nico could… "What!?" Bob, however, was shifting his weight back and forth between two massive feet and twirling his broom but did not look in the least bit surprised. He nodded his head a little as if to consent to the truth of the statement.

"I just thought, you know, Bob made a big deal about her being able to help. She had to be better at it than me. But… I guess we all make mistakes." Another raising and falling of a shoulder and Nico began to steer Percy away.

"Enough!" She screeched, her teeth grinding when she closed her mouth. Her breaths came in deep and laboured, probably because she was snotting like crazy and her only choice was to breathe through her mouth. Loudly. Rheumy eyes blinked. "Ask me for something practical. I am the goddess of poisons and there are so many ways to die. I could concoct any kind you'd like. Painful, prolonged, positively putrescent! And still, kinder than the fate that awaits you in Tartarus."

Nico frowned at Bob and shrugged once more. "I thought you said she was the living embodiment of despondency—"

"I am!"

"— But she doesn't seem to be suffering all that much. I don't know. I've definitely seen more miserable in my life…"

"I am the most miserable of all! And certainly stronger than some pathetic child of Hades. You are nothing, boy. Not even a true son of Death but a pretender! A keeper of the dead is more like it, and how hard is it to keep the dead? They're already dead!" She wailed. "But leading someone to death… now that, that is true talent! All of the possibilities, ripe for the crafting! And for that I am the most wretched!"

Nico looked Akhlys up and down as if sizing her up and shook his head, dark hair falling across equally midnight eyes.

"I'm not buying it. Let's go."

The goddess' hand shot out and pulled Nico close, unaccepting of his answer.

"Come with me."

The look Nico shot Percy told him to follow. This had been the plan. But he was still sort of curious to the whole was Nico actually able to control the Death Mist thing? He didn't speak about Tartarus or the clay jar so maybe the first time… had he controlled the mist? Maybe he'd gotten tired and not been able to hold on or maybe something had happened and… Percy's mind reeled a million miles an hour. Grover probably would have made a comment about hearing the hamster in the wheel trying to make it turn.

Following after the other two, he sighed, stepping a little easier when Akhlys let Nico go. He cast a gaze over his shoulder and saw Bob stood unmoving where he was.

"Bob?" Percy called back over his shoulder.

The Titan waved. "I will meet you on the other side."

"But…"

"This path is for mortals. He cannot make this journey with you."

Anguish twisted his stomach and crept up his throat.

"This is a really really bad idea," Percy mumbled so only Nico could hear. The younger man kept his feet shuffling forward but bowed his head a noticeable increment.

"The worst," he agreed.

"Are we going to—"

"—Go through with it? Definitely."

"Thought so."

 

----------

 

They travelled down the path, mist thickening around them until it was possible to see in front of them. Nico was still at Percy's side and he was thankful for that because even with a few inches, it was becoming impossible to see the other. But they bumped elbows now and again and it jarred his thoughts of we're never going to make it out of this aside momentarily.

Akhlys strode before them. Percy could hear her, the occasional wail piercing the dark and the mist. That and the ground in front of them was not only dotted with her blood (apparently still free flowing from the self inflicted craters on her cheeks) but the barren soil in front of them was dotted with flowers pushing forth. That was rather odd considering she was a miserable sack of boogers and tears. The scent was sickly and sweet, he preferred to breathe through his mouth but could almost taste their aroma filling the air.

Percy lifted a hand to cover his mouth and nearly shouted, cursing under his breath.

The mist before them was thick, tendrils being pushed aside as they walked through it following the Goddess of Misery forward to whatever help she would provide. But the mist… it was so thick because it was coming from them. It was leeching from Percy in fat tendrils, escaping from his hand and his legs and his face. In fact, he exhaled, and it curled outward like a vine from his mouth.

His heart hammered in his chest and his breaths came a little faster, the mist pressing in on him from all sides. Percy tried to walk a little faster but nearly tripped over the uneven ground, a tendril from on of Akhlys' portentous plants wrapping around his ankle and catching him as he stepped. He threw his other foot out to catch and steady himself, hands at the ready to take the impact of the earth if he got that far. But he didn't.

Instead, for the first time, his hands were held out in front of himself and Percy could have an actual look at them. The mist was moving faster now, haemorrhaging from every inch of his body and escaping into the air around them. Where his hands should be, Percy saw instead muscles and veins dissolving to reveal bones, the joints of his fingers flexing and shifting ready to catch himself. The flesh was translucent, pale and evaporating before his eyes. The same happened to his arms and his legs as the mist fled from his body.

"N-nico," he choked.

Looking up, he nearly vomited (but he wasn't entirely sure he actually had a stomach any longer) as he caught sight of his companion.

It wasn't the child of Hades that stood before him any more but a swiftly deteriorating corpse, decomposing before his eyes. Eyes were sunken into his skull, dark and lifeless. His hair was still jet black and thick, but it was withering and breaking. The flesh from his cheek was drying up and flaking away before Percy's eyes, exposing the muscles until those, too, were eaten away by the acrid air of Tartarus and they were like sinkholes, seeing a tongue and some teeth through an opening that wasn't a mouth.

Percy dropped his eyes, not in judgment but embarrassed to see the other boy in such a state.

Not that you look any better, his own voice piped up in the back of his mind. Because, you know, they were both the dream team extras for The Walking Dead by that point. Maybe his vision was clouded or something but Percy didn't think he was declining at the rate the child of Hades was. In fact— he stole another glance— it seemed to be going twice as fast.

As if reading his mind, Nico cleared his throat.

"I'll always be closer to death that you, Perce. For a million reasons. Only one of which being I look pretty incredible for an eighty something year old."

Despite himself, Percy laughed.

A shriek echoed through the mist from in front of them. The fog parted and Akhlys reached through, clutching both of them. Percy didn't even attempt to hide the fact that he shied away, steering clear of the barrage of boogers that nearly wound up trickling down his whole right side. There were just some things you didn't need to share with someone who was helping you, and your own mucus was riding high on that list.

"What is that horrendous noise?"

"Laughter?" Nico added unhelpfully.

Another shriek pierced the air. Apparently anything that sounded like, or eluded to, a positive drove her into a manic frenzy. Nails like talons dug into his dissolving arm and pulled him through the thick fog, emerging at the end of a peninsula, jutting over a pit.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," but even though he muttered it, the Goddess of death was tuned in and picked up.

"Why no, not at all! You didn't honestly think that Tartarus was all that there is, did you?"

"Actually, yes. I did." Percy replied.

For a moment, Akhlys stood there blinking, her eyes watering faster, tears interrupted only briefly. There was a brief second where Percy mentally high fived himself for stumping her into silence. When she recomposed herself, which included gouging her cheeks out further and hacking coughs that spat phlegm and tears everywhere, she fixed her watery gaze on them once more. Each tear fell to the ground and poisonous plants sprung up in their wake, growing at a rabid pace. Hemlock. Nightshade. Oleander. Foxglove.

"Here is the edge of the earliest darkness, Night. The realm of death and lower still, the realm of Chaos, from which everything you know and many things you don't know, were born. You are closer to nothingness than any mortal has ever been. Can't you feel it? Final death."

"Final death?" Percy questioned.

Nico, turned to his friend and shrugged a thin shoulder. "Final Death. As in we're on the verge of being dead."

"Dead dead?"

"… That's the only kind of dead there is," Nico pointed out.

"Okay—"

"You're really not okay," Akhlys interjected.

"— but we can pass by the monsters without them noticing, right? Like they won't see us or smell us or anything?"

The goddess of Misery stood again, blinking her cavernous eyes once more. Only this time, Nico was also blinking slow and steady.

"Percy… she means final death as in it doesn't matter because we won't live that long."

"No, not living at all!"

"Oh. Well… that certainly puts a dent in our plans."

Chapter Text

Tempting The Fates

Chapter Thirty One

Dying Before Death

Percy


Talking was futile at that point so the pair did one of the things that demigods are best at, and that included drawing their weapons and getting ready to kick some butt.

Should have known when she wouldn't let Bob come. That was the first sign. Percy's mind reeled as he drew Riptide. Really, we should have seen this coming. I mean… she's miserable. Of course she was going to spring the whole eternal death and darkness shit on us. Duh, Seaweed Head. Sort of her thing.

His blade felt foreign in his hand, heavier than he remembered it. Then again, he was mostly made of smoke and the son of the sea was having a hard time keeping himself whole, let alone drawing his weapon in any kind of effective manner to protect either himself or Nico.

Nico, looking much worse for wear than Percy— he'd gone from an extra on the Walking Dead to a sinister spectre that could have starred in his very own horror movie, potential trilogy even. If Percy's spine were fully in tact, as in not a dissolving poof of smoke, he might have shivered. As it was, his not quite tangible stomach was caving in on itself.

Akhlys grinned, because as it were, misery loved company, especially juicy demigods she could sink her talons into and feast on their blood. Turns out, ingesting halfbloods was a highly sought commodity in Tartarus that no one was stocking.

"Poseidon's child, such a good vintage!" She screeched.

The Goddess launched herself forward and towards Percy who might as well have been caught in quicksand. He had never been the best on land and here, so far from his element, he struggled. Compounded with the fact that his body was hardly his own— and quickly evaporating into a steaming mass of swirling clouds above them— his blood felt like sap in his veins. Percy attempted to bring down Riptide and slash the sorrowful sack of bones. The movement wasn't fast enough and he found himself thrown aside by Akhlys.

"I will drain you." Standing above him, she grinned in her cracked and weathered leather way, eyes sharp but leaking. Around him, more poisonous plants grew and in their mist, he felt his head going dizzy and vision going unfocused. They were an extra three thousand strength.

"Get away from him!" Nico shouted.

A flash out of the corner of Percy's eye caught his attention. The son of Hades pounced on the goddess, his Stygian sword in his hand. Unlike his companion, he had no trouble moving with his new phantom form. The mist had stopped seeping from him, composed in the area around himself. Like planets gravitated around the sun, Nico's mist coiled around himself, no longer fleeing the way that Percy's continued. He had never been more made of shadows than in that moment, brandishing his blade, cracking it against Misery's claws, flitting around her at impossible speeds. Nico was a dark silhouette, streaking from position to position. Like a hummingbird made of mist and shadow.

Maybe it was from all the shadow travelling but the boy was moving better without a real body than he did with one.

Does shadow travelling actually make you a shadow? Or just moving shadows? He wondered distantly only to have that followed by, What does it matter? You're going to die. You're just delaying the inevitable. Jeez. He was sounding more and more like Depressingly Self Indulgent over there.

Back on his feet once more— which was awkward because he could barely control (let alone feel) his feet— Percy clutched Riptide again. Nico was a flash, flitting everywhere but Misery was everywhere. Here, in her domain, she was everything, and there was no escaping her. Still, Nico tried. He was fast but she was faster… with a little more practice maybe he could have done more. Even though he got in a few good whacks— she was now bleeding from both arms, was missing a pinky finger, and had a gapping wound on her left ankle— hit for hit she was getting more. The drakon hyde was torn and he might have been bleeding if his spectral form could have done so, as it were, he looked like one of his own dead warriors called into battle to help defeat Kronos.

Even surrounded by death mist, power came off him dark in waves. Nico was extraordinary.

He slashed again and she howled, a chunk of her dead hair falling to the ground. She definitely needed a haircut but the uneven bob harshened her emaciated face. Or maybe that was the extra rivulets of blood mixing with the sludge oozing from her nose… Akhlys threw herself forward, pressing quicker. She just wouldn't tire. She shouted something along the lines of never having suffered such a terrible haircut in all of her (un)life.

"I'll have you know I cut my own hair!" The words dripped venom, from clenched teeth.

"Do you?" Akhlys asked. "Because it looks like it hasn't been cut in years!"

"Why you…"

Percy tried one foot out and then the other, trying to pull himself together. Literally, he was trying to call the mist to himself the way that Nico had but it wasn't really working. Knowing him, the son of Hades had some kind of special tutor in the Underworld who taught him a multitude of things— how to be a shadow and how to shroud himself in death mist and combat excellently as nothing more than a bit of fog being some of them. Nico was fighting like he'd passed 101 and gone straight to advanced. Whatever the case was, Percy couldn't command the faint wisps, no amount of internal tugging or pleading was making a difference.

For each rapid step Akhlys took (she was downright agile for a nearly mummified death deity), fatal flowers grew in her place. And with the rate of her steps? The barren field would soon be lush with life. But the flowers also reached forward, protruding and pushing themselves closer and closer to Nico.

Catching a whiff of their saccharine perfume, Percy's stomach churned. She was backing Nico towards the edge of the barren field, half with her actions, and half with her death bouquet. For every parry, feint and slice Nico was still losing ground. Towards the edge of the peninsula. To the edge of Death.

"Cheerful!" He shouted. The word burst forth from his lips before he could even think about what he was doing. The wail squall that left her lungs was deafening. But she didn't turn, too focused on her prize. "Compassionate! Chirpy! Peppy! Merry!" Her high pitched tirade continued but she was not willed away from the younger demigod.

He almost did it. Nico almost managed to dodge the last move she made, tucking himself into a crouch and readied to roll forward and to the side of her but she caught him with a clawed foot and boy did she need to cut her toenails. The blow caught him off guard and he recovered, climbing back to his feet but he was too close. His heels were to the edge and there was nothing behind to support him. Nico threw a look over his shoulder and when he turned back, he held his sword with renewed determination.

Percy was running but he was too far. He threw his bag with all their rations at her trying to distract her but Akhlys was deaf and blind to his efforts. She would not be moved. In the end, she smiled and when she struck, Nico met her blow but the forward trajectory took his ethereal form too far back and in the end (it was like slow motion), his arms windmilled trying against any logic to catch himself and regain balance but it was hopeless. He stood teetering.

He could see it happening even before it did.

"I never liked the flavour of Hades' son. A rather rotten harvest." With a wicked smirk, she slashed again and Nico fell backwards disappearing into the black below.

"NOOOO!" The words ripped from his throat like the wind through sails on a boat doomed to succumb to a storm at sea.

Percy didn't have a fully solid form but he was on her then, meeting Akhlys and clashing like hot and cold fronts, crashing in the quiet of Tartarus. All that echoed was blow after blow and their breathing. She blocked his strifes and he struck again and again and again, limbs never ceasing despite the fatigue quickly growing. As a figure made of mist Nico moved like liquid but Percy was a fish on land, but he refused to let that stop him.

Not when Akhlys had condemned his friend to a fate worse than death. Worse than Tartarus. To primordial powers and punishment.

"How does it feel, my child? To know you are alone and your friend's fate… so uncertain. Will he made it to Chaos? Or won't he survive the journey? So new, to be presented with such an opportunity!"

"AHHHHH!" He wailed, smashing the goddess in the ribcage with the blunt side of the sword.

She wheezed for a moment, weaving in her stance before baring her fangs and hissing at him sending more snot and spit flying.

"You will die, my delectable demigod. You are in Tartarus and you cannot escape. Not from me, not from the true and final death. Not from the mist that will fall over your eyes before your time comes. And he knows you are here, he has known since the beginning. Now I will drink you dry, and feed your remains to the Eternal Night. Perhaps if there is something left, I will give it to Tartarus as a gift."

Lips parted and those fucking awful rotten teeth showed again. Percy wanted to

Riptide divorced each of her remaining talons from her fingers one by one. She was fixated on him, and when she could not cut his throat with her own fingers, Akhlys changed tactics.

"Do not say Misery did not try to be merciful. I would have gifted you a swift death. But this… it shall be slow." From her feet, the plants grew wild, pushing forth from the barren floor of Tartarus, splitting the dry earth. Green vines sprung forth, bright coloured flowers, and sickly scents gasped in the air.

Percy's mind went fuzzy, his vision blurry, and he couldn't have told anyone if it was from the water in his eyes, the plants growing forth, or the mist leeching the life away from him. Akhlys stood, sending the plants forth towards him, spewing saplings faster and faster. They began dripping, their juices flowing, poison running hot and thick. It flooded towards him, circling him, creating a tiny island of dust that grew smaller and smaller.

Smaller. And smaller.

Beneath him the ground hissed and sizzles, smoking.

There were only inches left, and the flowers were rising up taller, the vines creeping closer. They would start to wrap around his ankles soon and crawl up him. They'd use him like a stock and soon he'd be covered, trapped where he was, burned alive or dissolved to death. Whichever happened first. There had to be something.

Nico.

Poor Nico.

He can't be… not after all this…

But he could be. Your fault. Everything that has happened to him since the day you found him… it's been your fault. One way or another. Your'e responsible.

No. He couldn't succumb to those kinds of thoughts. There had to be something. This couldn't be final death. Not when they were so close. So so close. The thought threw his mind just moments later, gravitating once more towards the son of Hades. Those powers he had, to control the earth and those made of the earth… maybe he had the same. There was no water around him but poison… it was made of water. If he just focused.

Steadying his breathing, and ignoring the pang in his chest of blood slithering slower and slower in his veins, Percy concentrated. The familiar tug in the pit of his stomach was small at first but it swelled like a wave inside of himself. The poison rippled, minuscule motions echoing outwards from where he stood. The pressure grew, in his stomach, behind his eyes, in his mind… his gut was boiling, scalding with the loss of his friend, the injustice of this journey, with the requests of gods who asked so much and gave nothing in return, for impossible odds and never any thank yous.

Nico. Ten years old eyes full of wonder, bouncing on the balls of his heels with every quick fired question and the new world before him. Percy's fault. Eyes broken with the weight of being alone in the world again, Percy's fault. Forgetting Bob. Not asking after him. Not looking after him. So many pains… his fault. Tartarus. His fault.

The poison swelled backwards, heading towards Akhlys. All he saw was red. The red of Tartarus, blood and fire and affliction— unmatched and eternal.

"W-what… what are you doing? Stop that! You can't do this!"

"Percy! PERCY! Shit… shit shit shit… I'm kind of… barely hanging on here. Whatever you're doing, cut the shit— AND COME HELP ME!"

The Sea Prince lost concentration for only a second. Who…? and then he remembered. Nico. Over the edge of the pit. Not over the edge but clinging to the ledge just like Percy before he'd fallen. And he had a chance to return the favour and either save him or plunge down with him. Whatever it was, he wouldn't be doing it alone. But Akhlys… he had to be rid of her. She was going to hurt Nico. Hurt Percy. She'd lied and she deserved torment. Whatever he did to save Nico, she'd just undo it if given the chance.

Percy wouldn't give her the chance.

"Aren't you going to save your friend?" The mummified goddess asked, fangs raking her bottom lip. Now she was not only bleeding from the gouges on her teeth but also from her mouth. "Or can you live with yourself a few minutes longer knowing that where he will go, he will live in eternal ataxia?"

"That's a pretty big vocabulary for a crusty old fossil." Focusing his concentration once more, he felt the bubbling in his stomach, livid and scorching his insides. The death mist stopped then, stopped pouring away from him. But the poison, it was swept away by a new tide and he felt every putrid molecule as it descended back on Akhlys.

But it wasn't enough.

No, there was more he could do.

"PERCY!" Nico shouted again, from over the edge. "STOP!"

Percy could feel it. Every modicum of moisture because everything… everything was made at least partially from water. Just like everything came from the ash and the earth and the dust… everything. They went hand in hand. Side by side. And he could feel them, the particles, just waiting for his invitation and they would agree. The mucus that dripped from her nose and the water that ran from her eyes, he could feel it. Different than the sea but it was saline, salt content, water.

"PERCY!" Nico's voice quaked, loud but no longer as strong.

"Don't worry, Nico. I've got this."

"What… what are you doing?" Akhlys bellowed.

The tears and the snot choked her, he halted it in her lungs and shoved it back at her, forcing it into her as the poison descended upon her feet and began eating away at the husk that was her skin. As her feet were smoking, Percy reached out with his hand and his mind, feeling for all of the moisture in Nico. Not in the way that he'd felt for it in Akhlys but to call it to him, like he did with the sea or a river or water in general. To bring it forward.

Percy was abrupt but cautious enough not to leech all the water from Nico but let it remain intake within the other boy, willing Nico himself to come forward. He felt the success as Nico was deposited onto the floor of Tartarus, no longer hanging over the pit. Attention was immediately turned back to Akhlys who had fallen to her knees, clawing at her face once more but also her throat, trying to open up a new airway.

"We have had enough of you." He took a step forward.

"And we're not going to play your game any more. Fuck, I'm not going to play any games any more. In fact, you can play my games. And this game is called run back where you came from, you pitiful wretch. You tell Tartarus or Chaos or whoever you think the biggest bad is and tell them that Poseidon's son will defeat you all. Every. Single. One. And if you ever touch the ones I love, you'll wish you were mortal, because you'd beg me to die."

Laying on her side, her hair and side were smoking, eaten away by the poison. Her eye dropped in the corner and pustules burst out on the parched skin of her face.

Percy let go of his hold then and Akhlys, choking and gagging as she went, scrambled to her feet and ran in the opposite direction. For a few seconds he watched her go.

Remembering where he was, and who he was, he turned back to his friend ready to congratulate him on a job well done. Nico had been amazing, the way he'd moved! It was incredible. And it really was all thanks to him that Percy had been able to do any of those things. It was that talk, the fact that Nico could do so much. Percy had never even considered the possibilities, the ways in which his element could be further manipulated to help him.

Nico lay on the ground near the edge of the pit. "Come on, Neek. Get up. Time to make a move before she changes her mind. I don't think I scared her off for that long… Neek?" Rushing forward on mist like feet was much easier now and as he dropped to the boy's side, he didn't need to be a child of Hades to see— through the death mist, through everything— that the younger boy wasn't breathing. And he barely had to use his newfound awareness to realise that the water had settled. There wasn't blood pumping through his veins, partial spectre or not.

"Neek!?" A fury of curse words in both English and ancient Greek poured from his lips as he leaned over the other, his ear close to the other half bloods mouth. No sensation. He wasn't breathing. How long had it been? A few minutes? The synapses in his brain fired a hundred times faster than their normal ADHD speed.

He'd done this. He always did this. It was Nico. This was always his fate at the hands of Percy.

Tears welled up in his eyes as Percy shook the boy with no response.

"C'mon, Nico. C'mon. Wake up… come on."

In the back of his mind he knew that he was missing something. Some crucial little thing that he'd known once upon a time when he was calm and rational and not trying to suppress the nausea building in the back of his throat filling his mouth with saliva and an urge to puke. Shaking hands ran through Nico's hair and down the side of his face feeling at the side of his neck for a pulse. Nothing. Just as he'd thought.

"Nico…" he murmured, the name catching in his throat.

If he could just say it enough, he'd open his brown eyes. He would.

Sucking on his bottom lip, he brushed at his eyes and drew in a shaky breath.

Pull it together, Jackson. He's not dying here. Not today. So fucking do something!

Once more he reached inside himself and this time, precision like a surgeon, he felt out and into the other boy's body. To his blood. And he forced his heart to beat. One time, very gently. A second time, soft. A third, fourth, fifth, until there was a steady rhythm. The blood rushed through his veins but he still wasn't breathing.

Tilting the boy's head back, he placed his mouth over Nico's and blew forcing the air back into his lungs. Ten seconds. Again. And again. And again. And again.

The tears were blurring his vision. The only thing he could see was that below him was his friend, dark hair falling across him, long eyelashes fanned across his cheek, and he just wouldn't fucking wake up.

"Don't you dare, Nico. Don't you dare do this to me. Not now. Not when we're so close. You better wake up or, Zeus' sandals, so help you!"

He blew into his mouth again, forcing the oxygen into his body. With one last push to his heart and another exhale into the boy's mouth, Percy knew that would be it. The last chance. Because he'd give anything for Nico to have forever but Percy Jackson couldn't work miracles.

Midst breath into the other boy's lungs there was tension.

Pulling back, Nico's body shot up, wracking with a cough. His eyes opened, chocolate and skepticism earned in his short lifetime. Percy choked, pulling the other boy to him and sobbing into his shoulder. Arms were slow to curl around him, but they did, leading him forward to rest.

"N-nico… gods, Nico. You were g-gone… fuck… You were dead. You were fucking dead!"

Nico nodded, silent in his ministrations as he smoothed down the hair on Percy's head.

Anger flared through him at the lack of response. Where were his tears? Why didn't he care? He'd nearly left Percy all lone down here in this fucking place!

"You were dead," he repeated.

"I know."

Sitting up, he sucked in a deep breath and worried his bottom lip with his teeth.

"You were dead and—"

"It was an accident."

"I killed you."

Nico fixed his gaze on Percy and pressed their foreheads together once more, holding his sight. "Every day in Tartarus is killing me," he said honestly. "Now come on, we have to get going."

He pulled himself up, swayed briefly, brushed himself off and attached his Stygian sword to his belt once more. If he was exhausted he didn't show it because neither of them had time to feel it. They had to get to the doors. 

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Thirty Two

Over the Edge

Nico


 

The moment they’d wrapped the death mist around them like shrouds of their forefathers, he’d felt the thrumming of his heart speed up. It was cool in the way that summer nights could be, the temperature plummeting with light giving way to the dark. There was something about it, though foreboding, was also familiar. And not familiar because it was a cloak he had worn before, or because of the Ghost King’s affinity for manipulating the mist as part of his birthright. Familiar in the way that it welcomed him, like an old friend. Perhaps because he was so often touched by death. Perhaps because it was likely he should have succumbed to it (and old age) by now… if not, of course, for the intervention of his father.

 

The two demigods followed after Akhlys, dark eyes watchful of the corpse-like goddess as she lead them down a path even Bob could not follow. She might be their only hope for the time being, but her help wouldn’t come for free and the only question that remained: what was the price? The fact that it turned out to be their deaths was hardly surprising.

Sabotage and betrayal? In Tartarus?

No way!

How unexpected!

Nico was less surprised that although he was more phantom than body than his companion, that Percy had a harder time holding himself together as he attempted to fight back Misery. It wasn’t his best look… disintegrated flesh, flakes of sinewy muscle and skeletal frame that somehow still spoke of his swimmer’s frame… and yet Percy probably didn’t look nearly as revolting as the boy made of shadows. He moved like liquid, like ink, with his Stygian blade flashing as he fought back Misery. But as long as he kept her busy, that meant that Percy had a few moments longer to— to what? Escape. Figure out how to control his body succumbing to mist. Die.

Nico really didn’t want to think about that last one as each second brought them closer to the inevitable moment they could no longer pull themselves back together. And even with his affinity to the mist? His end would come three times faster than Percy’s, he could feel it already. Just like he could feel the drag of the pit behind him with each step he took backwards.

Closer.

And closer.

Akhlys hardly flinched when Percy’s backpack— unaffected by the mist— was thrown at her. It bounced off her and rolled away (fortunately not over the edge of the chasm otherwise that’d be it— no provisions for Percy) harmlessly. She had been mid swipe with her long, gory talons and they missed him by a hair, deflected by his own blade. In the sweep around she kicked the backpack away and it bounced back towards its owner, no longer a tripping hazard. But it gave him just a fraction of a second, his senses in hyperdrive as they are for any demigod in battle, and he had an opening. A single fraction of a second opening where he swiped with his Stygian blade and connected with the goddess of Misery. Nothing fatal, but enough, he had hoped, to knock her a little off balance.

“You rotten half-breed!” She shrieked. “You dare to strike Misery?!?” And with that she launched herself forward and Nico could feel it, the second that there was little more beneath his heel than air… and then he was falling. It took every ounce of his concentration, every once of willpower, but he held himself together enough that his fingertips grappled with the edge of the cliff, holding himself from the chasm below. Another, darker, deeper pit. The breath stuttered in his lungs; he wasn’t sure that his stomach had stopped falling like the rest of him.

"You will die, my delectable demigod. You are in Tartarus and you cannot escape. Not from me, not from the true and final death. Not from the mist that will fall over your eyes before your time comes. And he knows you are here, he has known since the beginning. Now I will drink you dry, and feed your remains to the Eternal Night. Perhaps if there is something left, I will give it to Tartarus as a gift." Her taunts drift over the edge of the cliff that Nico is so desperately clinging to as he attempts to hoist his form up and over. For all the control over the mist he might have, he hasn’t exactly practiced attempting to rock climb with ghastly limbs whilst Chaos attempts to suck him down into his belly. Saying that the son of Hades isn’t exactly successful in pulling himself up and over is an understatement, and for each time he scrabbles, a little more of the edge seems to crumble away leaving him slipping backwards again.

So he can’t see it when it happens because he’s firmly faced with the craggy cliff face, but he can feel it. Feel the way the atmosphere changes as things shift and move and twist themselves to an unknown master and begin to answer a call that never should have been made. Nico isn’t sure how he can differentiate the feeling from all the wrongness of the toxic landscape but he can and it feels like the first time. The first time he stood with Bob looking on, nervously chewing on his mop end, and the prince of the underworld attempted to control more than the earth but the dust and the ash which makes up everything. It’s like a pressure and a presence all at once and although he can’t see what’s happening, he can hear Akhlys’ shriek and part of him knows that just like he had, another son of the Big Three has found a deeper part of himself and his gifts than other demigods could understand.

Water.

Liquids.

When he’d discovered his own ability he’d suspected… and yet asking would have meant owning up to the potential that he possessed. It would have meant talking about it… that he could do more than just call forth the dead or manipulate the shadows and the earth. It would have meant actually speaking with Percy and Nico didn’t need another reason for anyone to look at him with distrust or fear… like he was a plague. Like his presence would taint those around him. And maybe it would. No one, not even demigods, were meant to have powers like that. To be able to do things like that. It wasn’t natural. And so he had suspected and wondered, but he’d never asked.

Then there had been the whole not-meddling-with-the-gods and the memory wiped children pulling the good ol’ camp switcheroo.

"Percy! PERCY! Shit… shit shit shit… I'm kind of… barely hanging on here. Whatever you're doing, cut the shit— AND COME HELP ME!" And the cliff was giving way once more, his hand coming loose and dangling at his side leaving him holding on with only a few fingers. He threw all the power he had in attempting to latch his hand back onto the cliff but his fingers curled around another bit of crumbling soil and rock disappearing to the depths beneath him. Once more he shouted for the other demigod, for his help before he plunged downwards and he heard the other’s cry back but he’d called out to the sea and heard back from a cyclone.

“Percy?!” And that’s when Nico feels it, the attention that the other demigod has turned towards him, like an awareness of every drop of moisture in his body as it’s called to Poseidon’s son. Not out of him, not exactly, but his eyes bulge in what’s left of their ghost like sockets and he’s moving, that much he knows, but somewhere after that he loses himself, not before he’s aware that his heart stops beating. Maybe it was the stress of it all: a second trip to Tartarus, having eaten the Pomegranate seeds, sending those hell hounds to dust, the way Tartarus has sunk its claws inside of him and is speeding up an internal body clock that’s been behind for so many years, nearly losing Percy, the death mist…

From the darkness came light, even the red tinged dimness that was Tartarus as his body wracked forward and up as if wanting to beach itself against the son of the sea. Pupils shot back and forth trying to sense the danger, find the reason that his lungs felt like he had been buried alive and his chest ached. Percy, a part of himself whispered.

He was dead, for however brief a few moments, and the son of Hades didn’t need to hear it to know that it had been true. So he acknowledged it, only briefly, knowing they couldn’t afford for him to clutch at his chest and contemplate what that might have meant— or how he might have failed the other boy if he had stayed that way.

“It was an accident,” he answered quickly because if there was one thing he didn’t want the other demigod to think, it was that he was somehow wrong after what he’d done.

“I killed you.”

Already he can see it, the panic setting in eyes the colour of churning waves. Hands, still wisps of mist, took either side of the other’s face and brought their foreheads to rest together fixing his gaze. “Every day in Tartarus is killing me. It’s not the same as it is for you… I’m closer to death. I always will be.” As a son of Hades. As a boy without a true place on the topside to call home. As someone who had spent too long in Tartarus once before falling back once more. “I’m only going to say this once and I want you to hear me, really hear me, Perseus Jackson. You are powerful. What you can do is incredible but this side of your nature won’t come to you easily. The water and the earth give life… but they also take it away. There is a natural order to things, a balance. The gods are not the only ones with a dual nature… but it’s different for us. Children of the Big Three. Do you understand?”

Percy’s eyes drop, not willing to meet his gaze at first so Nico uses his grasp to tilt the other’s head up just a fraction, demanding his attention. When their eyes lock he can feel the hesitance, a gaze that’s search for any shred of falseness to the son of Hades’ words but they find nothing in his eyes to suggest anything beyond the impassioned words he’s spoken. He meant them.

“Do you understand?” only this time it’s met with a nod.  “Now come on, we have to get going.”

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Thirty Two

Darkest of Nights

Nico


 

Back on solid ground, a respectable distance away from the edge of the chasm, Percy’s gaze followed the other as he slipped his bag on once more. Nico was still inspecting the cliff, attempting to find a way across but found nothing. Despite the murky atmosphere, he could see from the swirling electrical storms of red tinged sky above and what dim light it provided, that there was an opposing side. It was far, but it was not impossible… a bridge or something would have been a great. So would a neon blinking sign saying Doors of Death this way! Preferably complete with fluorescent blinking arrow and a light up path.

If he had been a glorified zombie, Nico was sure the hair at the nape of his neck would have been standing on end. There was little chance, he thought, that the giants would have followed them this way if even Bob was too frightened to take this path. Sighing, he squatted down, letting his fingers (ghostly as they were) run along the ground and closed his eyes (though he wasn’t really sure that he had eyelids any more— thanks death mist). Calming his breathing he focussed… let the fog clear from the edges because the crater wasn’t filled with gravel and rocks because it was a living being. A part of Tartarus itself. Feel the whooshing and the thumping, rhythmic and steady, the life that flowed and he followed it as best he could until his eyes opened.

Just in time for Percy to wrap a hand around his upper arm and tug him to the side.

“Wh—?”

The question was lost to the sound of hooves and carriage dropping down on the spot where he’d only somersaulted from seconds before. The horses whinnied and protested against their reins, as the goddess was like smoke and ash, her robes draped across her were galaxies and universes taking their last breaths, and her eyes were collapsing suns. Looking upon her caused a chill to run up his spine.

“I have a feeling that’s what she meant be feeding us to eternal night.”

“You think?” Nico snapped back, certain that the rolling of his eyes in his skull made its own sound. His fingers closed around the hint of his Stygian blade though he wasn’t sure what use it would do either of them; Percy mimicked his action raising his celestial bronze sword.

“Yes, it is adorable, Shadow. Look at the way they hold their blades as if they could face me! It’s really too cute.” Her nebulous robe shifted as she chuckled and the sound set his teeth on edge. Darkness wasn’t anything the child of the underworld was unfamiliar with but the goddess before them was ancient and power emanated from her— not saying that his dad was a spring chicken but she felt different.

“So… who are you? Besides someone whose horses have questionable taste in dining habits. I mean really… we look three years dead. Who wants to eat that?” Percy shot a glance at the nearest horse who bristled.

“What do you mean who am I? Why… I’m Nyx! Goddess of night. Even the new gods fear my wrath!” She stood taller, which was a feat given she already rivalled the Athena Parthenos in height.

“Never heard of you.”

“Percy…” Nico warned, but the other wasn’t listening.

“Never heard of Nyx?! Impossible! I am the eternal night from which all things are born!” She cried, her horses nickering more loudly. Whatever they were saying must have made the child of the sea uneasy because he side eyed them and took a step away.

“Listen, I’m going to level with you. We don’t really have time for this. We’re on a whistle-stop-tour of Tartarus and we’ve only got time to hit the main attractions.”

“Tour!?” She wailed.

“Yeah. Tour. As in limited time. Just the highlights.”

“What highlights!?”

“You know… only the most important things. Bathed in a river of blood. Had some Gorgon Sister’s Gourmet Grub. Slayed some of the finest monsters Tartarus has to offer. Caught up with Damasen. Saw a fallen Greek temple… really out of place but in surprisingly good condition. Really, the only thing left on our itinerary is to see the Doors of Death. Just the high-level important things.”

Nyx was practically coming apart at the seems and Nico thought he gave off waves of darkness when he glowered or grew angry but he could feel the chill even through his death mist shrouded form. That was one impressive glare. Long fingers curled around the rail of her black chariot, the other gave a great crack of her whip and though it didn’t connect with either of the horses, they reared up on their hinds legs all the same.

I am the mother of terrors!”

“So… what, you’re one of those stage moms or something? Take credit for your kids work?”

As she wailed, the darkness coagulated around her, the already murky depths becoming darker. “Darkness! Doom! Day! Death! Distress!”

“You really have a thing for the ‘D’s don’t you?” Nico couldn’t help but let it slip.

And that immediately had Percy cackling with laughter. The goddess and he both glanced at him and it took the other demigod a second to realise where his mind had gone. “She really has a thing for the ‘d’… don’t you get it… like…”

“And you’ve saved the world how many times? Really?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Honestly, lady, you don’t want to.” Nico shook his head.

Unaccustomed to being interrupted in the middle of her wretched tirades, Nyx had lost some of her momentum. Momentarily the shadows flickered. “Where was I!?”

“Children. Lots of them. Many of them with names starting with D.” Nico added helpfully, giving a swing of his Stygian blade. It wasn’t to attack, but more to make sure it was still responsive in his ghost like grip.

Dark eyes darted behind her; now that he knew that this was Night, he also knew that her mansion would not be far away. Or cave… some myths claimed it was a cave and from looking at her and the cliff face below he could believe that. They were on the edge of Chaos, after all, and the end of all things meant Nyx’s homestead couldn’t be too far. If the way for demigods was through Eternal Night’s home, he was unsurprised that Bob wouldn’t follow. The poor guy still used a nightlight and he carried extra batteries and an array of flashlights. Just in case. Through the dimness he glared, trying to find any differentiation in the landscape.

“—Oh, yes! I am the mother of terrors! Curses and old age. The Fates themselves! Pain, Strife, Friendship!” As she said each one, the shadows began to flicker to life once more, drawing to her darkness the way the Ghost King drew shadows to him. “Honestly… the last one is hardly me favourite,” he waved an ashen hand and from behind her somewhere came a scoff.

“Not everyone can follow in the family business!”

“You see how important I am? See what progeny I have gifted the world? So many terrifying things all because of me! Zeus fears me and my palace. Yes, that’s right! My child so offended him that Zeus followed him across the earth but even the all mighty Air Head wouldn’t follow him to my mansion. That’s right— king of Olympus fears me, Nyx!” She brandished her hands upward and outwards, standing up to even greater heights, eyes shining like the collapse of so many suns. “And the Doors of Death? You’d never make it, not unless you first passed through the halls of my home.”

Behind her, her gathering of shadows and children echoed in ecstatic agreement, at the same time that Nico’s eyes spotted the black marble archway some few hundred feet below. But they wouldn’t make it, not with Nyx and her brood of horribly named children following after them. Not unless they had a reason to be inside.

“Zeus, huh? Guess you hadn’t heard but Percy here sort of got one over on him. How many demigods in recent time do you know that have been offered immortality, huh? I’m just saying… Zeus might have been afraid but he’s gone soft.”

Percy’s eyes were as round as sand dollars and he could understand why— it was hopelessly foolish. Except that Nico did hope they were so far below the earth and Hades that the king of Olympus couldn’t possibly overhear anything he said. And if he did somehow find out… well that was another problem for another day. Right now they had plenty. So he feigned nonchalance and shrugged a single shoulder, locking his gaze with the sea prince’s with a silent just follow along before turning back to Nyx and giving the icy once over to her and her children. “And in case you hadn’t noticed… my dad is Hades. I spend basically all of my time in the dark. With dead things. Ghosts. Ghouls. Zombies. You name it. Night isn’t particularly interesting.”

Next to him, the other demigod laughed, impish smile crossing his ghost like features, as he finally caught on. “Yeah… you’d have to try pretty hard to impress either of us. We should probably get going, Neeks. Looks like Nyx is just a bag of hot air and her children…” He huffed and shook his head. “Sad. Just really sad. Tartarus isn’t at all what they said it would be.”

“Wait!” She screeched holding her hands out. “You must come on a tour. I insist. Horrors you couldn’t imagine. Are you a fan of art? Perfectly preserved because they’ve not seen the light of day in… ever! Monsters— hah! I have rooms filled.” The two boys were milling away slowly but stopped in their tracks and gave another shrug towards one another.

“I guess we have a little time. I mean, it’d be a shame if the pamphlet was wrong.”

“It is!” Nyx’s children nattered behind her in agreement.

“Alright. An hour. We can maybe spare an hour.”

“Perfect!” And she motioned for them to step onto her chariot and whisked them across the chasm towards the Mansion of Night leaving Nico’s stomach somewhere on the other side.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter Thirty Four

Just Your Average Friendly Titan

Bob


 

 

It turns out that finding a job for a Titan in the Underworld isn’t as easy as Nico made it sound. Lady Hades growled something about clashing with the scenery? But Bob did not clashing, not a single bump. He might have been over ten feet tall but he was nimble for his size. No, he didn’t knock over a single headstone or statue of some old dead one-person-or-another. Still, he’d stayed hopeful with the younger boy at his side as they made their way across his father’s kingdom until they settled on just the right job.

Nothing had felt as at home in his hands as the large push-broom.

Still, the Lady Hades had looked down her long pointed nose at him. Surely, they had enough caretakers in the Underworld. The ghosts. The zombies. They hardly needed anyone of Bob’s caliber to help with janitorial duties. The Queen paced as she spoke, flowers woven in her hair and more flowing from the lengths of her gown. Everywhere she stepped seeds and pollen were dragged in her wake. No one so much as batted an eye at this.

Not until, at least, Bob had piped up that if they did such a great job at cleaning up then why were the hallways covered in pollen? And didn’t the Lady Hades realise she was leaving a trail of pitch behind her. Her eyes had gone wide and a hand lifted to her mouth in horror at the insinuation.

Next to him, Nico had bit hard at his bottom lip trying to stop himself but he’d coughed something between a snort and a laugh into the crux of his arm trying to pass it off as a sneeze. Hades himself had appeared amuse, the strong lines in his face softening. They’d given him a trial basis. Soon after he’d been granted an employee of the month plaque and a pat on the back from the King himself.

“Never realised I had allergies. Guess it’s been so long with Persephone’s little… problem… that I assume the sniffles was a bad case of the damp. A thousand years! Can you imagine, Bob?”

So he’d been hired. Officially.

“Ooh— looks good!”

The pale child had grinned at him, waving the skeletal tailor away once it was apparent the blue coveralls of his janitor uniform fit. “And one final touch,” he said offering out a name tag with Hi, my name is Bob written in bold black letters against its white background. Bob smiled as he fashioned it to the left pocked of his coveralls and took a final look at himself in the mirror. For good measure, he turned one more time and nodded.

“Yes, this looks good. Thank you,” he turned to face the demigod. It was hard not to notice how alike they were. Where Bob was silver, Nico was pale and they stood out against the dark background of the Underworld. The deep colour of their clothing (his brand new and fitting oh-so-nice!) helped them to blend in with the background. Just a little. Just enough. And now that he looked the part that meant he would have to start his actual duties. The official Janitor of the Underworld.

“I’ve never had a job before.”

“Me either, big guy. How about I stick around and help you out? We can get to grips with it together. Maybe make some suggestion on processes and duties. You know, really make it your own.”

That grew the smile on the Titan’s face. Nico really was a great friend.

 


 

“Tell me again.”

There are many things they talk about while they round the halls of the palace, cleaning as they god. Bob with his custom made tool belt (also Nico’s idea but everything affixed to it had been Bob’s doing including the Helios Headlight make flashlight… helped to brighten up the dark halls and really test to make sure he gave the halls that extra sparkle). Nico with a squeegee in one hand and bottle of spray in the other. So many things. The son of Hades had made it his own personal mission to help Bob try as many different things as possible so he could figure out what he liked (Mrs O’Leary, chocolate and anchovy cake, haunted houses) and what he didn’t (baths, vegetables, rollercoasters). It didn’t do anything to bring his memory back but it made him feel warm inside.

Nico knew without prompting which story Bob was asking to hear. It was one of his favourites. What had the other called it? An origin story? Something about how they were always more interesting. Everyone likes a ‘before’ because it helps to fill in the blanks if all they know is the ‘after’ part. Something like that.

“You’ve heard it a million times.”

Bob cannot count that high but he is absolutely positive he has not heard it that many times. Still, his friend’s voice isn’t protesting. When he does his voice sounds different and his face squishes up— especially above the eyes. At the moment, dark eyes are meeting Bob’s silver ones in question. “Not a million,” he replies with confidence, even though he struggles to count beyond the number of fingers and toes that he has. Or the total number of fingers and toes.

“Okay, a lot.” Nico concedes as he sets down the spray bottle and gives smile to the other. Its small, like all of his smiles, really more one corner than the other, but it softens the strong features of his face. They have been cleaning for a few hours already and Nico perches on the stairs, taking a break whilst Bob continues to sashay across the hallway in front of the staircase. They’re nearly finished with this wing. Soon he can move on to the next. After lunch, of course.

“You won’t need my help soon. You’ll have heard it so many times you’ll e able to tell it to me.”

Bob doesn’t argue. He knows all the details. Still, he loves it. As he speaks, he follows Bob with his eyes but soon they do that thing where they’re seeing beyond. Bob knows that look. He has seen it every time the demigod casts his mind back and tells the story. There’s a rhythm to his voice that Bob follows even as he sweeps and then follows over the clean floor with a mop. In the dim hallways, Bob hands onto every word. Notices every change in his friend’s speech or his face as he talks about his mother. His sister. The hotel. The school in Maine. Finding out that his father was a god, though he didn’t know who. Meeting Percy Jackson. The first time he laid eyes on camp. How alienating it was to realise not only did you not really know yourself or where you’d come from. How he’d begun to figure it out. How he was still trying— and they had that sort of thing in common (Bob smiled).

From there it always moved onto heroic antics of his friends from Camp Half Blood. Sometimes there were new details, little side stories peppered in about the time that he’d accidentally shadow travelled to England and wound up in the middle of a brothel — don’t worry about what a brothel is, Bob, its’ really better you don’t know. Gods, I wish I didn’t know. Eventually, though, Nico picked back up the squeegee and his spray bottle and followed the other down the hall, dusting and cleaning as he went.

“There are so many extra rooms in the palace,” Bob began and even without turning he knew what look the other would have in his eyes. But it does not stop him. No, he is sure this is a good idea. It would be good for Nico! He has spent so long in the Underworld, far longer than a boy his age should. Demigod or not. So he continues. “I could set them up. Friends could come to visit. They could meet the puppies.” One of the hellhounds was nearly ready to deliver a litter; Bob couldn’t wait. They would be small and cute! And wouldn’t eat demigods… maybe just nibble a little. Probably not. But Bob could train them in his free time…

“I wish, big guy,” Nico clapped his hand over Bob’s where it held the broom. “It’s different for them… they’re so busy. Not just with godly things, but with mortal things, too. Human things. It’s not the same for them as it is for us.” There it is. The sadness. It seeps in when he talks about them, no matter how happy the story, and it tugs at Bob’s heart. Nico hands over the squeegee and spray bottle. Bob chews at his bottom lip. He opens his mouth to speak but the boy has already muttered something about sparring practice with one of the ghost Lieutenants.

“See you later,” but the hall is already empty.

 


 

“What?”

Bob doesn’t understand. There have been many things he’s seen— anger, depression, insignificance— but the agitated to and fro steps of the young demigod has never been one of them. He speaks so quickly, sometimes slipping into a langue that the janitor cannot understand.

“He’s gone, Bob! Missing.”

Dark eyes are wild as they finally meet his silver ones. Even in the ghostly green fire that lights the halls, he can feel the dark radiating off the half blood in waves. It makes him smell delicious (something he has never told the other but demigods sort of smell like fresh baked cookies… mmm…). Large fingers hook into the utility belt around his waist, fidgeting with each of the attachments ensuring they’re all there. If he’s to help, he needs to have full supplies.

“Friend Percy? He cannot have gone far.”

“That’s just it, Bob. I can’t feel him. He’s not dead… I would know if he was in our kingdom but I can’t feel his presence, either. It’s like someone’s hiding him.” There’s that look on his face. It’s set. Determined. Nico has made his mind up about it. “No one has heard from him. Annabeth. His mom. It’s like he’s vanished into thin air. Demigod don’t just go missing, Bob.”

He helpfully points out that there are many times that Nico goes missing.

This earns him a very harsh look.

“It’s not the same. You know where I am. I’m here.” And he waves to the Underworld. That is a fair point and Bob nods.

But what can he do? If Nico cannot feel the demigod, Bob is not sure how he can help and his heart sinks at the realisation. Percy is a great hero! The first thing he remembers is coming out of the river and finding Percy with Annabeth and Nico and knowing they were friends. Then there are all the great stories that Nico tells. And the way the demigod lets him know that Percy asks after him. That he could visit if he could. He is a great hero and an even better friend. Especially to Nico. Even if the son of Poseidon could not visit. Splinters fall to the floor and he looks down only realising too late that he’d taken to chewing the handle of his broom and it had snapped like a toothpick leaving him to mumble that he’d clean it up and then they would figure out exactly what they should do next.

 


 

Unrest was growing in the Underworld. The doors were open. Thanatos had gone missing for a time and though he was back, now, he paced and groaned as much as the ghosts. Things didn’t stay put like they were meant to. Things died but they didn’t always cross the River. They didn’t always pay the ferry man. And the dead in the fields were restless.

Things were supposed to stay dead.

Things that weren’t Titans or monsters, anyway.

It made the silver hairs at the back of Bob’s neck stand on end. He didn’t like it. Not one bit. Ghosties were meant to stay where they were. It was how things worked. How they had always worked. A watchful eye was cast across the river, watching as the boat of newly departed souls made their way into the Underworld. Bob was alone on his break but wasn’t scared when the young demigod popped out of nowhere. He did that sometimes. It had stopped startling him long ago.

“She’s gone.”

Bob didn’t have to ask to know what he meant.

Bianca.

“She… she decided to go for rebirth. I should have known she’d want to try again.” There’s disappointment in his tone and his eyebrows are furrowed as he stares out across the water. With his blade attached to his belt and arms folded across his chest, Bob thinks he looks like he has grown. For a small human, anyway. They do not get very big. And for a human, the son of Hades has always been especially small. But he is longer now, not necessarily bigger, than when he last saw him.

There’s a moment of silence that stretches between them. It is not the type of sadness that words can fix. Maybe it is a good thing. Bob has seen Hades upset. Seen the way skeletons crumble to dust or felt the way the earth shakes, seen the way what little light might be leeched out of even the least expecting. And the arguments! Lady Hades and her husband could argue. It sent a shiver down his spine. Nope. Bob did not want to think about that. Hades might have been upset with Nico if the boy had succeeded.

“There was someone else.”

A silver brow raises.

“Someone else?”

A sister. Not Greek, like him, but Roman. And what a different world it was to learn about this dual nature. A second camp. A different place that maybe, just maybe, the young half blood might be welcome. She was there now, Hazel, with eyes dark just like his. A girl out of time, just like him, too. With gifts that were different than his own— he wasn’t entirely sure how, yet, just that she didn’t feel the same— the younger boy is babbling that he’d have to see if they had Mythomagic cards with a Roman expansion. Bob doesn’t know what that is but apparently they would be a great help. There was already such affection in the way he spoke about the ghost-now-girl; Nico would be checking on her soon.

For the first time since Percy Jackson had gone missing, the boy seemed at least a little hopeful. There was something other than sadness in the way he carried himself and as he spoke, he did so with the whole of his body. Whether he realised it or not, he could hardly contain himself.

Bob practically fell into the river, waving his meaty hands to balance himself. Nico grabbed at him, though it was more likely the demigod would have fallen in head first alongside the Titan than prevent him from falling. But it was a shock to the system— the son of Hades hadn’t even reached the very best part of his tale. Percy was alive! And well! Maybe a little worse for wear and definitely a bit shaken up— he could probably use a haircut what with the way his dark hair was curly and unkempt as ever but the Romans would sort him out. That’s right, he was at this camp on the other side of America along with Hazel. For a moment Nico had practically run up and thrown his arms around him in relief but their friend didn’t remember anything before a few days ago. Not Bob. Not Nico. Not Annabeth. No his father, his mother, or that he’d helped to save the world.

“We have to help him remember.”

Things only got more complicated from there but this time, Bob managed to keep from nearly falling in the river.

 

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 35

Girl Talk

Piper


 

“Mrs O’Leary!”

Hazel’s caramel colour hair flounced behind her as she ran as fast as her legs could take her. As it turned out, it wasn’t particularly fast. She wouldn’t be joining the track team any time soon. Teeth dug into her bottom lip and Piper cast her eyes downwards. That was a nasty thought, she chastised herself. She seemed to be having more of them lately. Even before Jason. Before Cupid and his stupid whatever-had-happened had happened. Since coming to the ancient lands she’d been more on edge. Her powers less under her control. And Katoptris? The things it showed her were darker, more twisted, and harder to understand. Just glimpses really. Many things she couldn’t make out. She wondered how many of them might have been Tartarus… but didn’t dare mention that to anyone. Especially not Hazel.

“She must… have caught… something’s scent.”

Her friend is practically doubled over, one arm holding her stomach whilst the other rests across her knee. She’s bent over herself and breathing raggedly when Piper catches up to her. The daughter of Aphrodite runs her hand along the girl’s back and gives it a gentle rub.

“If I’m being entirely honest? I wasn’t looking forward to shadow travelling back yet. I’m pretty sure I already threw up the tofu dog I had for dinner. I don’t really want to re-experience the spicy bean burger.

Hazel makes a strangled noise she interprets as a chuckle. Albeit, a very lost-for-oxygen one. When the younger girl finally rights herself, Piper slips an arm around her waist and begins walking with her in the direction which the hellhound had taken off like a bat out of… well… hell.

“What do you think she meant?”

“About what?” Piper asked, looking down at the other girl.

“About it mattering… but not in a way that’s meaningful to humans. What do you think she meant?”

“Honestly, I don’t want to think about it.” Maybe it’s because they’re in the Underworld and silence feels about a hundred times more quiet than silence above ground. Maybe it’s because of all the horrible things she’s seen in Katoptris. Or maybe it’s that everything feels wrong at the moment. Sliding her arm from Hazel’s back, Piper wraps her arms around herself as if to fight off a chill (she’s not cold, not exactly, but there’s a shiver working its way up her spine and it seeps deep into her bones). No matter, she continues. “We delivered the sceptre to Styx. She’s going to give it to Nico and Percy… that much is clear. And the only one that could use it would be Nico, right?”

“Yeah. I don’t see how a son of Neptune— Poseidon,” she corrected herself, “would find it very useful.”

“But Nico isn’t Roman. It calls forth the undead, doesn’t it? Soldiers who believed in the old gods. Greek. Roman.”

“Right… but they need a praetor to lead them. Percy isn’t Roman.”

“And Nico doesn’t exactly fit in anywhere.” The words are out of Piper’s mouth, again, before she can stop herself. Swallowing (and half wishing she could gag down her tongue and maybe her ability to say the worst things possible to, like, basically everyone), she holds herself more tightly. “I’m sorry… but you know what I mean. He might be a delegate or respected at Camp Jupiter but he’s not a praetor.”

“Death is never welcome. It doesn’t matter how natural it is.” Hazel’s voice catches at the end. Her breathing is uneven once more but this time it’s not from running. Stopping on the spot, Piper turns to face the younger demigod. She’s practically a head shorter than her and it’s not exactly like Aphrodite’s daughter is fantastically tall. “It’s not his fault.”

“Hazel.” Piper’s voice grows stronger as she takes the other girl by the arms, holding her as she fixes her two-toned gaze on her. Hazel doesn’t meet it at first and when she does, she’s certain the other isn’t going to thank her for what she says next but if there’s one thing she can do? It’s tell the truth. “It is his fault. At least partly. No— let me finish. He knew the second he laid eyes on Percy who he was and he never told him. He didn’t say anything to you, or to Percy, or to Annabeth… or to Percy’s mom. Can you even imagine how worried his mom must have been?”

“He had a good reason…”

“I’m not saying he didn’t. The fate of the camps… blah blah blah. Your father threatened to turn him into a pomegranate and serve him at the Underworld buffet… Whatever the reason was, it still isn’t good enough.” Nico was weird. And creepy. He lurked like a shadow and slunk around the edges of everyone’s vision as if to keep directly out of sight. Without trying it was like he disappeared. The Italian might be alive when they rescued him from the jar, but he may as well have been a ghost. Piper didn’t mention any of this, of course. Or the way that the other set her on edge. Made goosebumps crawl up her skin. After all, he was a demigod. He was still Hazel’s family. And although Piper was in the midst of telling some hard-to-hear truths, she wasn’t going to pour salt onto her friends wounds. “He was wrong.”

Piper practically falls over with how quickly Hazel’s arms are ripped from her own. When she glances up, it might be dark but there is practically a glowing aura around the other demigod. Her eyes topaz, hard and unyielding like her voice. “Wrong? Wrong? You want to talk about wrong? Wrong is the way everyone ostracises him just for being a child of Hades.”

“It’s not just because he’s a child of Hades, Hazel. When has your brother ever tried to fit in?”

“Why should he have to try?”

“Because it’s what normal people do. They try to fit in. They try to make friends. They try to explain to an amnesiac boy who has been missing for months that he’s loved and missed by everyone. That people remember him even if he can’t remember himself.” Piper was seeing red. And maybe it was because she would have wanted to know. Because having memories faked and put into your head wasn’t any better than having them removed. Because expectations were never the same as reality. What had been done to Percy had been done to Jason— and to her and to Leo and it wasn’t fair. “He’s supposed to try to act like a regular human being!”

“Like a regular human being? And how do they act, Piper? Because I’m pretty sure that regular doesn’t apply to demigods.”

“Of course it does. Our normal might be a little loopy, but it still exists. I get that he’s your brother. I get that he brought you back from the Underworld and gave you a second chance. I get that. And I’m sure you feel like you owe him or like he can’t do anything wrong… Gods knows that if our positions were reversed, I’d probably worship whoever did that for me. But that boy… There’s something wrong about him. He’s never been normal.”

It’s dangerous territory, how off script they’d trodden. But how much further afield can they go then off the beaten path in the Underworld?

“Wrong? Wrong, Pipes, honestly? Is it normal for a boy to try and throw themselves off the side of a ship after breaking up with you? And isn’t it wrong that Annabeth literally couldn’t breath after speaking with you? What part of it is normal that your charm speak has been hurting people, Piper?”

Her words were like a knife through her already freshly broken heart because Hazel is not wrong. It is not normal.

Tears welled in Piper’s eyes and though she parted her perfectly glossed lips to speak, nothing came out. Instead they half closed, then opened again a few times. I look like a fish drowning in air on the land, some part of her thought distantly. Like that fishing trip she’d taken with grandfather on the reservation. Close your mouth unless you want to trap flies, he’d said to her at some point though she couldn’t remember what a much younger version of herself had been gaping at. Perhaps one of his stories.

In the end, Piper pursed her lips into a thin line and turned away from Hazel. Her arms wrapped more tightly around herself. As tight as they could. She needed to keep her broken heart together. Keep it from spilling out of her chest. Keep the pieces from scattering in the unnatural breeze that seemed to permeate the Underworld. And more importantly, she needed to keep her mouth shut because she could feel it. Feel the way her darker nature crept up the back of her throat. Feel the way that Hazel’s accusations were really just ripping off a poorly placed bandaid that had been hiding the truth; Piper knew that anything she said would hurt Hazel. Or worse, might make Hazel hurt herself.

Because it was. It was out of control. She didn’t mean for it to be but how was she meant to stop herself when she didn’t always realise that she had begun?

Her foot caught then on something she couldn’t see through the blurry kind of blindness caused by tears stinging eyes when mixed with mascara. It sent her world turning, and her tumbling head first. As she pitched forward, her hands flew out in an attempt to catch herself, scraping along whatever broken and decaying debris had been underfoot.

Piper had seriously had enough. Letting out a cry— somewhere between a sob and a snarl— she drew Katoptris from her belt and began hacking at the ground. The string of curses she let loose were ones that would have surprised even Coach, whose language was quite colourful. Her vision blurred by tears, Piper hacked away at the ground and the offending object— whatever it might be— that had tripped her. Her scream turned into a wail and after a few minutes her arms grew tired and she left her dagger half buried in the ground, tears streaming down her face.

“He broke my heart,” she mumbled even before she felt the weight of Hazel’s arm across her shoulder. “Fake memories, Hazel. She implanted a history we never had and made me love him… or the idea of him. The things I wanted him to be… and maybe it’s wrong to resent that he can undo it but it felt real.” Kneeling beside her, the daughter of Pluto began to brush her fingers through her unkempt hair, something her father had done when she was much much younger. It reminded her of something… peace. How long had it been since she’d felt peace?

“I’m sorry. For everything that I’ve said. For all the things that I’ve done. I know— I know,” she hiccuped, “It’s out of control. I don’t mean for it to be, Hazel. But over the past few days, my gift doesn’t really feel like it’s mind any more. I don’t feel like myself. How much of the demigod me is actually me and how much of it is implanted by Hera? I know I’m still me it’s just… everything’s so confusing. And to top it all off… to top it all off, I can’t even trust myself. My own judgement. My own memories. My own powers. I didn’t even realise that I was doing it. And when Jason told me… when he told me that it was over… I saw red. I wouldn’t feel this way if it weren’t for a halfwit goddess getting all up in our business.” She should stop, she knew. She’d probably get smote the next time she was any where near an open flame and hearth. “I didn’t meant to hurt anyone… but what she did to us… that hurt us. And Nico not telling Percy? That hurt him. And Annabeth. And his mother. And however many other people. It isn’t fair.”

And just like that, the daughter of Aphrodite sagged the same as a helium balloon forgotten in the corner over a few days. But all the while, Hazel didn’t stop her. Didn’t quiet her. Just let her cry herself into exhaustion.

"It isn't fair." The hard edge to the other demigod’s eyes was gone when Piper finally dared to glance up at the other. In their place, she saw the caring eyes of her friend. “But you know what else isn't fair? Feeling sorry for ourselves when we have a job to do. The world is counting on us, Pipes... And we won't get anything accomplished if we don't work together. So you need to stop. Until you get it under control or you get your head on straight, you need to stop. Otherwise you’re going to be the one responsible when someone gets hurt.”

“I know,” she sniffled and wiped her nose and her eyes on the back of her arm once more. Sighing, she took another second and swallowed before nodding at Hazel. Whether she wanted to be or not, she had to be okay. They had to keep going. “Now let’s go find Mrs O’Leary and get ourselves back to the Argos II before people start to think that we’ve been abducted by some schizo god and being held as their forever lover. That happens, you know.”

And honestly, it really did.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 36

The Ocean is a Pretty Big Place for a Demigod All Alone

Annabeth


 

How many bad days could someone have in a row? Honestly, there had to be a world record for how many times Annabeth could find herself in mortal danger. True, it’d be a pretty difficult bar to achieve given any of her demigod predecessors (and, hey, maybe some of her companions) but as the ground receded further and further from her feet, she wasn’t so sure how far off she might be from snagging it for herself.

At some point she must have passed out because when her eyes opened she was flying through wisps of clouds and there was a near constant pressure followed by popping in her ears. “Great,” she muttered but her single world was swallowed by the roar of the wind. Her brain, hardwired for combat and responding a multitude of threats simultaneously, clocked how thankful it was that her mother and Zeus were as close as any of the gods and goddesses could be on any given day. She could think of a few demigods that probably would have found themselves blasted from the sky by a spare lightning bolt. Being barbecued however many thousand of feet up wouldn’t have helped her very bad day any.

So how did she get blown so high up (whilst simultaneously plummeting back towards the earth— or, really, the ocean, because it felt like it was sea on all sides)? Well. That was a funny story… and by funny story, it was more like a really perplexing question. Annabeth wasn’t sure of the answer herself, not entirely.

It wasn’t like Piper had pushed her in front of a freaky enraged minor goddess whom Annabeth didn’t know from her elbow. And it wasn’t like she had thrown the daughter of Athena over the side of the Argos II herself. But when it came to the child of Aphrodite? There were different kind of pushing. Namely the kind that used words woven so intoxicatingly into commands, anyone, even someone clever enough to know that it’s happening, can’t stop it.

But she needed to back her oxygen deprived brain up a little bit, because her thoughts aren’t linear and it’s getting a little confusing. She had been on the Argos II and at some point she must have fallen asleep— it wasn’t a luxury so much as a necessity and she must have been bone tired because the demigod didn’t remember falling asleep. What she remembered was waking up with her senses on overdrive and the nearly translucent hairs on her arm standing on end, then the hair at the nape of her neck as well. It sent a chill through her and she might have sworn that she saw her own breath despite how insufferably hot and humid it had been only a moment before. It made her stomach sink and her thoughts had immediately flown to the sceptre; it was important enough to be needed, it was important enough to draw monsters and attention. Throwing herself from the bunk, Annabeth had thrown herself from her bunk and run the short distance to Hazel’s room and knocked again and again. No answer.

“Be asleep, be asleep,” muttering under her breath, she opened the door and found the bed empty. No Hazel. But also no sceptre.

Another quick check found Piper missing as well. And that’s when the temperature had dropped again and when the daughter of Athena exhaled her breath turned to ice. No. This wasn’t some leftover side effect of waking too quickly. Something was very wrong. From there, everything had happened in a fraction of second. The stairs were taken a few at a time, Annabeth shouted for Hazel but had no response. On the deck of the Argos II she found some of her other companions less the one she was specifically looking for… and plus three on the creepy minor god and goddess front.

Her skin was pale like snow itself, and her eyes were like coffee spilt across it, marring the otherwise perfectly porcelain surface. There was nothing warm about her. She heard the high pitched shriek for the rest to come out from hiding— her voice scratched like ice down the back of her neck and then? Then she was heaving herself in front of the goddess without time to put together who she might be, or who the hockey jersey wearing goons beside her were, and then there had been an explosion of wind so fierce and cold that she’s gone flying. The last thing she remember before it happened hadn’t been the chilling voice of the goddess, but rather Piper’s demanding shout (she wasn’t even consciously aware of what the girl has asked of her) and the fact that her body had launched itself directly in front of Leo and Jason.

The turquoise of the sea shone below her so very far away she wasn’t sure if she imagined white caps or if the parts of a demigod’s brain responsible for acuity in battle also sharped her focus so precisely she could see unimaginable distances. Her stomach clenched. She might have known how to swim and the ocean might remind her of Percy (and it broke a little imagining him before it steeled her resolve once more) but this? There was no amount of ambrosia and nectar that could her after basic physics met biology and every one of her bones broke with the force of her landing.

No time for pity, Wise Girl. Her internal voice mimicked Percy’s. You’ve got one shot before you’re fish food, extra flat and meaty. What are you going to do?

Closing her eyes, she shuts out the world for just a moment and lets her mind think. What can she do? The idea hits her as quickly as the snow queen’s dreadful blast had. Every part of her is shivering, not just from the heightened adrenaline and endorphins, but because it is freezing this high up and she’d been blown to all hell. Lifting her hands to her mouth she blows as hard as she can hoping the warmth of her breath will thaw her icy digits and restore some sensation. It’s clumsy work, and time she honestly doesn’t have, but eventually they pry free the pendant she had added to her camp necklace. Amongst the yearly camp beads, directly in the centre, was a mirrored locket. Round, not the traditional heart shaped. The clasp is sturdy but simple though she hasn’t opened it since the first time she’s closed it. Inside it housed a simple sand dollar.

Good thinking, Wise Girl.

Annabeth is grateful for it. Ever since the first war, Percy had insisted that she have at least one to hand at all times. The first he had given her; she had spent it shortly after he had gone missing to call in favours with any of the sea creatures in the harbour off of camp to be on the look out and bring back any word of the missing son of Poseidon. They had come up with nothing. Shortly after, she had replaced it. Just in case. Because she should always have one. Their godly parents might be less than fond of one another but the creatures of the sea responded to the currency, she was assured, and generally without question of who presented it.

It’s part of the answer, Annabeth, but what is the question? How are you going to use it?

No matter what she attempts to trade the currency for, it will not stop her from smashing into the waves at a velocity that will equate the landing surface to cement. So the first problem is slowing my fall… and then the second problem is dealing with where I’ve landed… in the middle of who-knows-what-ocean. Without any idea how long she had been out or how fast she was travelling (see also: hurtling) it was impossible or her to do anything more than guess where the goddess’ blast had hurled her. With nothing on her, not even a backpack, and little more to grasp beyond the sand dollar than the wisps of clouds she was falling through her only plan of attack was to beg a favour of her grandfather.

“Lord Zeus… I know you haven’t been feeling well but… it’s Annabeth. Your favourite daughters child… so hopefully that makes me your favoured granddaughter. If you could help with the whole plummeting to my death situation, it’d be a lot easier for me to help fulfil the prophecy of the seven. Pretty please. And I’ll owe you a favour.” The last part, she added begrudgingly. “And mom, if you’re in any condition, I could really use you or your dad’s help about now. I’ll take it from there.”

There’s no great crack of thunder and no lightning bolt arching across the sky. It was a wish and a prayer really, nothing she should have counted on and with the rate at which the ocean was rushing to meet her? It would only be a few more minutes before it was lights out for the last time. Even if she threw the sand dollar as hard and as best she could, even if she screamed and wished for Rainbow to come, the hippocampus wouldn’t be able to save her from gravity. Annabeth was never one to envy others but what she honestly wouldn’t given for some a gift from her godly mother that might have been useful in this situation instead of the intelligence to envisage exactly how she was going to die.

“Screeeeeeeeaaaa!!” the sound sent the hairs on her neck standing on end shocking her out of her thoughts.

There, above her, glided a massive eagle, its eyes focused on her. The talons opened and for half a second she is dumbfounded before letting out a whoop. Massive birds of prey — ones that are large enough to carry even petite demigods— are not of the mortal variety. She thanks Zeus and her mother fervently as the eagle glides impossibly towards the water and deposits her with a gentle splash into the water having slowed her fall in a impossible way. When she breaches the surface again, she waves her free hand as the eagle disappears from sight sending her thanks along with it.

“That’s one problem, Chase.” She mutters to herself. With the sand dollar still in hand, she closes her eyes and asks for Rainbow. The flattened sea urchin floats away from her hand, buoyant due to the salt of the sea, for a few moments before it’s snatched by some unseen thing beneath the water. Annabeth doesn’t question when the waves break and the rainbow scaled hippocampus appears, jumping from the water  in a magnificent backflip before landing with a splash ten feet to her right. Shaking its head, its mane sends rivulets of rainbow droplets of sea water, sparkling like diamonds in the sun, and of course splashing the demigod in the face. It’s as welcome a greeting as any.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you, Rainbow.”

Annabeth closes the distance between them with a few breast strokes before climbing atop the sea monster’s back. He blows bubbles in the water and whinnies something that she interprets as a question. Unlike her kelp headed boyfriend, however, she doesn’t understand so she hazard’s a guess.

“Percy is on a mission just like I’m supposed to be. But, well, something happened. And now I’m here in the middle of the ocean.”

The hippocampus responds with a few more bubbles and a braying sort of sound which she has no idea how to interpret and zero context with which to apply it. Fingers course through the beast’s wet main. Her hair probably doesn’t look much different, just as messy, albeit blonder.

“I don’t know where my friends are Rainbow. I don’t even know where I am. I was passed out for a little while. I was hoping that you might be able to help me. Maybe you could take me to land? I’m sure I can figure it out from there.” More bubbles are blow in response followed by movement so Annabeth curls her fingers into the waves of Rainbow’s mane and holds on tight.

 


 

It takes some time— hours by her estimation with the way the sun travels across the sky. Its high overhead, hot if not for the breeze over the sea and the constant splashing of water on her face, but powerful all the same. She’ll be sunburnt, she’s sure, by the time her feet are on solid ground again. And then she sees it, so small at first, it could be a mirage. But it grows larger, comes into focus, begins to develop features beyond being the only pale coloured dot in a landscape that is otherwise turquoise.

“An island!” She squeals to Rainbow in delight. It’s the best thing that’s happened to her all day, and honestly, that’s saying a lot. It’s not mainland— that would be too much to hope for— but islands are better than being stranded at sea. Islands have boats. Boats can be stolen or stowed away on. Boats can get her back to mainland and back to her friends, she’s sure of it.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 37

Bob is an Uncle

Bob

 


 

Worried.

Bob was very worried. Little prince of ghosts had never been gone for so long without checking on Hades’ tenth-consecutive-recipient of the best janitor in the Underworld award. He even had a new shiny plaque to show Nico. It sat in his room on a shelf next to the others. They all gleamed, freshly polished each week. More when he was worried. And right now? He was worried. Silver eyes looked at the award and the Titan frowned. It was nice, but not as nice when there was no one to share it with… and Nico had been gone for too long. It set Bob’s teeth on edge.

Something had happened. Something bad. Something that prevented his friend from letting him know that he was alright. Quests took a long time, he knew this. They could takes months or years. But Nico was on an errand and not a quest. Errands did not take weeks on end. Errands did not keep the eldest child of Hades from returning to the Underworld to check on him. No, Bob thought as he chewed on one of his fingers (a habit Lady Hades often scolded him for).

Nico had been gone so long that one of the Hellhounds, Penelope, had given birth to a litter of puppies. Five in total! All the size of small school buses. The tiniest, somewhere around the size of a VW bug, was his favourite. But even visiting them this afternoon, watching as they ran around their mother chomping one another’s tails and shrieking as they play fought, he did not smile. No, it was too long. Nico never missed a new litter of puppies and Bob had had to assist a very distraught hellhound through her first litter. And it had not been easy! She had howled and cried and his arms— there were bites and scratches for days.

Nico had a way of calming the creatures that Bob sadly lacked. He was better as a janitor than as a midwife.

Bob sighed.

As thrilled as he had been, his heart had not been in it. Not when his friend was out there and the Titan had no idea if he was okay or if he needed help. And the more worried he became, the more absent minded. Hades had spoken with him on the first occasion. The second, the ruler of the Underworld had taken him to the side and rested a hand upon his shoulder and said nothing. They’d shared a look. And just as quickly the softness had gone out of his dark eyes and he’d pointed to one of the corridors and demanded Bob tend to it once more. He’d missed some grave soil and cobwebs.

Hades cared, he knew that. Even through his bouts of shouting at himself and the strange aura of confusion and splitting (he wasn’t sure how else to think of it) that occurred. When the Lord of the Underworld was himself, he was worried. And so was Lady Hades. She looked forlorn and her spells— which was probably the best way to think of them— were never as severe as her husbands. Still. Her flowers wilted, drooping and littering the halls with their petals. Dry and dusty, not at all like normal. Much harder to sweep up. Brittle and turned to ash at the first sweep of the Titan’s broom which really made them grind into the floor. Sweeping wasn’t enough. He would try to get up what he could but then he would need to mop thoroughly to rid the floor of the bits that ground down into the stone and the bone. Then, sometimes, he’d have to sweep again. She was a good stepmother in her own way. It was different for immortals. Their love was sometimes rough. Bob knew this, just as he knew he was Bob, even if he’d forgotten much else. Some things were just true. Some things you just knew.

Like how desperately the teenager needed him when he heard his cries all the way from Tartarus.

Bob did not hesitate. He ran straight toward the canyon in the Underworld that lead to Tartarus and he jumped, broom in hand, duties forgotten.

And that was how he wound up climbing across the pock ridden landscape of Tartarus, picking his way down the side of a mountain on a trail the demigods had not been able to follow. Their path was forward with Akhlys, through fields of Misery and across the Chasm leading to Chaos, towards the mansion of night where they would find themselves out the other side and in Bob’s company once more. The death mist would hide them from the interested eyes of monsters and Titans alike who’d like to make serve them revenge… or as dinner. It was the shortest way. The best way for demigods. And one that covered their scent.

Tasty like chocolate chip cookies and hot dumpsters. Like Gorgon Sister’s Gourmet Grub! Drakon wings, extra spicy. Mixed with vanilla, brown sugar and black pudding. They were different scents. Both of them. The son of Hades was a little more like cloves and brown sugar with a dash of phosphorous. The son of Poseidon, however, was more like fresh lemon zest, steamed muscles and salt water taffy. Just the thought made Bob’s mouth water! So delicious! No wonder all the creepy crawlies from the deep followed so close on their heels. If Bob had not known them as friends, he might have mistaken them for dinner. It was a very easy mistake to make.

As he climbed across the landscape, Bob puckered his lips and whistled. It was more spittle flying through the air and half hummed whooshes of air but he’d been trying to learn for the past few weeks. So far, the closest he had come was a partial shriek of air between his two buck teeth which had very nearly been a whistle. Bob was sure if he just kept at it, eventually he would get there. Whistling would be very useful in training the hellhound puppies. Already they were beginning to run riot all over the Underworld. They wouldn’t come when he called but if he could learn to whistle, he could teach them to come for miles.

The Titan had just about done it— a faint and airy noise of a thing— followed by three seconds of pure hard won achievement. Eyes wide with wonder, he turned to and fro looking for where the noise had come from, hardly able to believe that he’d done it himself. So ready to congratulate himself, Bob clapped with joy. Unfortunately, he was in the midst of climbing down a very steep slope and without hands couldn’t keep himself upright. He promptly fell head over heels, rolling like a log down the side of a far-too-steep hill picking up momentum as he went. The world was topsy turvey by the time he hit the bottom, smacking his head on the skull of some long dead monster. He gave it a half hearted bash with his hand crumbling it to dust for good measure.

“Bob doesn’t feel so good.” He announced to no one in particular. Rubbing at his silver hair, he could feel a bump forming. That was going to smart for awhile. A quick once over told the Titan that beyond a bruised ego and a few scratches, he was alright. Nothing more to worry about. To his left was the bank of a winding river and to his right, where he had just come from. Behind him the sheer edge that dropped to chaos and ahead, the path he would follow keeping the river to his side. “In just a moment.” He reassured himself because his stomach was protesting; he didn’t like spinny rides. Tea cups? More like puke cups. No thank you. Carousel? More like caro-hell. Forward and backwards. Those were much better directions. Oh, or up and down! Also very good. Around in circles? No. Circles were his least favorite shapes.

“Bob?” A voice murmured to his left.

“Styx?” He turned and sure enough as he pushed himself to his feet, the Titan goddess was stood before him, breaching the bank of the river. “What are you doing down here?”

“I know. Tartarus isn’t exactly the vacation spot it once was.” She glanced down with a grimace on her face. She’d stepped on a particularly small pustule that had been about to burst forth with life. Whatever had been inside was now goo on the bottom of her foot. She shook it with distaste and made a gagging sound. “I mean, birth isn’t particularly pleasant— I mean the stories I could tell you about my third— but this?” She waved to the landscape around them. “This is vulgar.”

In the distance, a particularly large pustule popped. It sent a shudder through Bob. “It is gross… but I had to help deliver puppies…”

“Oh, Penelope!? Has she given birth already?” The goddess clucked her tongue. “How many.”

“Five,” he beamed proudly as if they were his very own.

She clapped her hands together with delight. “Just what everyone could use. A little cheering up in the Underworld, don’t you agree? I mean Thanatos returning was nice but with the boys in Tartarus and the Doors of Death still chained in this dump? Everyone’s looking a little glum.”

Bob couldn’t have agreed more.

“Is that why I haven’t seen you as often?” The river, of course, still functioned. It separated the living from the dead, ran its course through the Underworld and briefly upon the world above, but her presence was sometimes missing. Bob hadn’t quite figured out how that could be.

“There has been much to do, my dear friend. My waters don’t run a great distance in Tartarus,” the look she gave him said she was thankful for that. “But much has been happening both above and below. War is coming, Bob, and when there is war there are oaths. There are prices to be paid for the promises that are made and greater ones still for those who break their word.” She glanced at him and offered a small smile, though it didn’t reach the smooth pebbles of her eyes. “Fortunately, today is one of the…” there was a pause as she picked her words, “easier days. We have demigods keeping their oaths, and in return, I have a gift to bestow upon one of them.”

Bob watched as the river goddess pulled a staff from her robes and held it before him. It was nearly a this of his height, and it nearly glowed in the dark atmosphere. Polished and nearly pure white, the body of the staff was long and lean. Upon it were three golden eagles, their wings spread and upon their backs, in stark contrast to the rest of it, was a dark orb. It was beautiful. Bob could practically feel the power pulsing from it, though Styx was not wielding it in such a way as to call upon it.

“Who?”

It was the only question that mattered.

The scepter was powerful, the Titan could feel that much, and he found himself hoping desperately that Styx intended it for his friends. The closer they came to the Doors of Death, the less certain the Titan was about how they’d achieve their goals… unshackling the Doors of Death might be easy enough but already he could smell the pungent odor of large groups of Titans and monsters gathered together. And the noise. It wasn’t just the whooshing of air, the crackle of static electric storms in the atmosphere above, but the louder beating of Tartarus’ heart and the occasional faint cry of troops. They were heading towards and army.

“Who is the gift for?”

“You will find out soon enough, my dear Uncle. Bring them to me, won’t you? When you find them again, bring them to me.” She touched his face softly, and gave him one last smile before she disappeared. His cheek was still damp and Bob wasn’t sure if it was the river water, or if it was his eyes, but he felt his heart squeeze and wasn’t sure what it meant.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 38

There's Always a Trap

Percy

 


 

When he opened his eyes he saw nothing before him. For a moment, Percy wondered if he’d finally taken one too many hits to the head and wound up blind. It honestly would not surprise him in the least. Groaning, he lifted his hand to his skull and sure enough there was a lump forming not far from his temple. Well that was going to leave a mark. Rolling to his side, the son of Poseidon coughed a few times through the dizziness that was currently tilting the dirt floor beneath him at impossible angles.

Maybe this is what it feels like to be sea sick. Land sick? He questioned himself. It took effort but he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, and another few seconds before he was on his feet and standing. The world was still a bit topsy turvy but he didn’t feel like he was going to hurl. Another few moments and his eyes began to adjust, just in time to prevent himself from very nearly tripping over the previous occupant of his cell. Because that’s where he was, somewhere in the belly of the mansion of Night in a freaking cell sharing a room with Rando Dead Guy.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.”

Percy muttered to himself as he kicked the bars of their cell but given the whole mostly-made-of-death-mist thing, it hardly made a clang. He was currently sharing it with Nico and a number of skeletons who looked like they’d seen better days. You and me both, he thought. Eventually, Riptide would return to his pocket but fat lot of good that would do against stone walls and stygian steel bars. Then again, maybe a glorified can opener would help him wedge the ancient lock a few times until it sprang open before is captors noticed… but Percy wasn’t really counting on it. Just like he hadn’t counted on Nyx having a dungeon of her own.

Which was really stupid of him in retrospect. Not like Nico had thought of it— or at least Percy didn’t think that he had. Somewhere in the middle of the mansion, halfway through their tour, and about the same time Nyx and her children attacked them— which totally ruined the vibe of the tour— they’d gotten separated. Unless she had some other hidden room in the basement, Nico wasn’t down here. Percy kicked at the bar again, getting a little more of a rattle this time and hoped that somewhere the son of Hades was working on a way to get him out… or at least he’d made it out himself. One of them had to make it to the Doors of Death.

“You’re wasting your energy,” came a scratchy voice outside the door.

Like the rest of the mansion, his cell was dim, but at some point his eyes must have adjusted. I wonder if this is what happens with mole people living in the subway. Eventually their eyes take up like half of their face… Then their offspring are probably born blind with echolocation. Or is that bats… wait, am I going to leave Tartarus with bug eyes? C’mon, Perce, focus. That was something to worry about later after he made it out of Tartarus. If he made it out of Tartarus. That whole getting out alive thing wasn’t guaranteed so it was a bit premature to be worrying about what sort of mutant he might be if he made it topside again. From where he stood, he couldn’t make out which of Nyx’s children they’d left to watch him.

Percy’s fingers wrapped around the bars of the cage and he leaned as far forward as he could, wishing his mist form to disassociate just a little, so he might press himself further through and get a good look at his captor. Nyx had disappeared somewhere but down the end of the long corridor of what the demigod assumed were also cells, there was a faint flickering glow and the murmur of voices. Besides the normal dungeon smells — mildew, damp earth, stagnant water, dust, probably something that died a long time ago — there came smoke. It tickled is nose, not like the bonfires at camp or the ones that he and Annabeth sometimes had on the beach by themselves when they escaped to the coast between camp and school, but more pungent.

“And?” he coughed.

“And everyone knows that stress degrades the taste of meat. We want you tender and fresh.”

There was a scratching noise, potentially wood against stone, and his captor stood up and peered into the cage. The god held a gnarled piece of wood with the fattest piece worn almost smooth with grooves that skeletal fingers rest upon. The end was sharp, almost to a point where it shouldn’t have been able to hold up the meager weight of the man hunched before him. It’s literally like a toothpick. Science just doesn’t support this… Percy cringed at the sight of his eyes, though, milky and clearly blind and yet somehow peering into him. There were things caught in the gods beard that he imagined were previous meals in various states of decay and the scent that wafted towards him was sick and sweet like death.

“Speaking of fresh,” he gulped air through his mouth, holding his nose, “have you thought about taking a shower? I’ve smelled unwashed cyclopses that’ve made my eyes water less. Seriously. My brother is one.”

“Watch your tone young man. Don’t you know it’s punishable by death to disrespect your elders?” In a move that was quicker than the eye could trace, the geriatric god whipped the end of his cane forward and rapped the demigod’s knuckles breaking the skin. Percy dropped his hold on the cell and let out a string of curses he was sure would earn him a smack upside the head from his mother, and sucked on the wounded digits.

“And I think it’s disrespectful to smell like a fridge full of rotten meat!”

He jumped back, receding into his cell where he was safe from the other.

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth!?” He bellowed, gnashing what would have been his teeth but given his age, and probably lack of dentistry in Tartarus, he did little more than smash together his gums. Drool began to form at the side of his mouth.

“Yes! And she likes it. Wait…”

“Gross, kid, gross.”

And that was how Percy Jackson realized that going on a tour of some Titan goddess’ mansion without an actual plan for getting out was probably not the brightest thing he’d ever done.

 


 

The moment Night’s Stygian Iron chariot had landed on the other side of the gaping maw that was a one-way-ticket to Chaos (who knew there was anything worse than a trip to Tartarus? Not him!), the son of Poseidon could practically feel the shadows turning and focusing their inky eyes on him like he was a big juicy burger, extra rare. One of the freak shows that was the Goddesses children— Friendship, he later learned, and seriously? Out of all the minor gods and goddesses including the litter of messed up, the nebula eyed Goddess had also birthed the patron goddess of Friendship? Honestly, he would never think about the concept the same way again— kept brushing up against Nico and kept smiling down at him. It was even more disturbing because they currently looked like super convincing extras on the Walking Dead… like Nico’s death-mist ear looked like it was slipping off of his body. He was pretty sure the guy was actually dripping. And Friendship was rubbing up on him like they were at some kind of dance. Needless to say, the other demigod looked like he was going to throw up. Whether that was because of the goddess or the mist, or the pull of Chaos? Who knew.

“I hope you have a plan.” Percy mouthed at the other but he wasn’t particularly comforted by the wild flailing of zombie ghost arms. Either Nico knew sign language and overestimated his ability to translate or it was a whole heap of hopefully we’ll figure it out but yang I’m sort of winging it and I hope that’s cool, which, by the way, was not cool. Completely not cool.

Their silent exchange is interrupted because the Titan goddess of night has removed something from her dark robes. Percy can’t make out what it is until he hears the hissing of air being separated and the crack of leather against skin. The vampire ponies rear and shriek, hurling insults and unpleasantries he’d really rather not translate though their use of adjectives is pretty interesting if not explicit. They disappear into the dark.

“This way, children,” Night smiles as she motions towards a nearly sheer cliff face, save for a winding staircase he’s not sure was meant for feet. Percy is only half certain that the goddess is speaking to them because the moment she claps her star speckled hands together, the gaggle of bickering children line up single file behind her and begin the ascension. He’s positive that he’s seen absolutely everything at this point in his life.

Percy’s breathing hard by the time they reach the top and that’s confusing. Do I even have a heart right now? he wonders because he can practically see through himself and Nico’s another story. They boy is like a faint outline of a zombie with the transparency turned way up. And if I do, I’m basically a ghost, which means I weigh of next to nothing. Although it’s very likely he’s going to have to repeat his junior year for lack of attendance, and he was failing science even before that, Percy’s positive that it was not how gravity was supposed to work. See, he could do science! He knew things! Take that Mr. Lanier.

His thoughts were cut short by another clapping of hands, echoing in the dark around them. The sea prince half tripped over Nico, walking straight into him when everyone came to an abrupt stop just before the entrance of the mansion. It rose above him, high into the red streaked atmosphere. Discharge from the electrical storm would glow red and sometimes light up some of the higher levels but even craning his neck, he wasn’t sure when the fortress-slash-mansion ended. Near the entrance, he noticed the beginning of a track and what he could only describe as cars from a roller coaster but battered and definitely made out of wood. The sides were painted and weathered making it impossible to read the logo. The fact that it seemed to be grey on black on grey on black for a color scheme wasn’t particularly helpful.

“Step right up to the Mansion of Night! Please see the height chart. All entrants must be at least five foot 2. No exceptions!” With a snap of her fingers, a wooden board appeared to the goddess’ left and she motioned for both the demigods to come forth. Being 6 feet tall, Percy aced the height requirement. When Nico stepped up, he was half worried that his friend would be told he was too short, but when he straightened his shoulders and lifted his head— since when was Nico only two inches shorter than himself? He could have swore he was at least a whole head taller when they’d fallen into Tartarus.

“And how old are you? This is strictly for marketing and research purposes. As we adhere to global data protections regulations, including GDPR, your details will not be used for any other purposes, and shall not be kept longer than one hundred years, as is standard in Tartarus. Destruction of your details shall include being thrown into Chaos itself where nothing is ever seen again.” The goddess’ child held a clipboard and had her hair up in a tight bun. He had no idea what she was meant to be the goddess of but he was pretty sure her shirt was actually a straight jacket.

“Seventeen?”

“Roughly eighty.”

Percy snorted, slapping his hand over his mouth and gave Nico a look.

“What? It’s true.”

“You must tell me your secret!” Long gone was the professional air of the otherwise maniacal looking goddess. She ticked whatever boxes she needed on her form and tucked the clipboard under her arm where it disappeared inside the folds of dark fabric and multiple buckles and straps. Already, she was leaning forward, as if trying to find the first line or wrinkle that might boast the boy was lying. How was she meant to see them through the death mist and the flesh slipping from his face (like, honestly, Nico’s bones were showing and that was a level of intimacy that embarrassed him for the other, he plucked at the boy’s shirt as if to move and try to cover it up for him)?

Nyx, too, had joined in, clutching his chin in her hands. “And to think you look so youthful! I am no expert in the maturation of homosapiens, and I must admit it has been some time since I’ve read up on this sort of thing, but I don’t believe you look a day over fifteen!”

“Do you use Artemis’ anti-aging products?!” The looney goddess murmured tugging on a tuft of his wavy hair.

“Well of course he must. That skin is so supple, so soft! Look, you can see it even through the mist if you just squint hard enough.” Another goddess practically purred, running her hands over him in a way that would have made Percy blush even if it were Annabeth.

“Now, now!” Nyx slapped both her children’s hands away. “You’ll terrify the boy before he’s seen our best terrors.” She clucked her tongue and turned back to the demigods as if letting them in on a secret. “I hate to admit it, but Artemis’ products are unbeatable. Ever since we overwhelmingly voted Texit— that’s Tartarus leaving the Olympic Economic Union— the tariffs and taxes! For all that is dark and gloomy, the tariffs. Trying to import anything for less than a few souls of the innocent and blood of virgins is impossible. Now now… this way…”

“You okay Nico?” Percy opened his mouth to say more but given the ghastly look of the other, he decided not to. Honestly, he wasn’t sure how he could tell given the death mist, but Nico looked ready to jump out of his own skin. The son of Hades wrapped his arms around himself, probably to reclaim some of the places the goddesses had been stroking and pinching at. If possible, he looked paler and like he was about to throw up, well, nothing because they hadn’t eaten in who knew how long. When Nico didn’t respond straight away, Percy slipped his arm around the other’s shoulders. “You okay?”

“Please don’t touch me.”

Nico shrunk away, flinching at the other’s touch. Not that Percy could blame him. He’d more or less been groped by the goddess of Creep and two of her offspring. With three sets of hands, it wasn’t like he’d been able to keep track of all of them. Ugh. A shudder ran up his spine. Nope, he didn’t even want to think about it. “Yeah, no problem.” He followed after the other and climbed into the wooden cart taking the seat next to him trying to figure out how to do his seatbelt before pulling down the bar that rested across their laps.

“Be sure your safety belts are securely fastened! Hands and feet inside the carriage at all times!”

 


 

Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clackclackclackclackclack.

The rickety cart ticked along its rails, throwing them around corners at speeds he wasn’t sure were entirely safe, and every so often Nyx would let out a bellow and her shadowy hands would pull this lever and switch that. It lead Percy to realize that she was driving the thing whilst they were in it… and it was not following some predetermined route. No wonder his neck was more like an overcooked noodle than an actual neck!

“Uhm, excuse me? I have a question.”

“Normally we save those for the end of the tour but…yes… go ahead.” It wasn’t Nyx who answered but her daughter. Unfortunately, it was one of the ones who had had her hands all over the smaller demigod not ten minutes before so when she turned around, Nico was practically clawing his way out of his seat. Good for him, because Percy was pretty positive with the way she leaned forward, she was trying to show off her ahem assets… and the boy totally didn’t need an eye full of that. Zeus sandals, he didn’t need an eyeful of that.

“Any chance Dracula lives here? That’s the sort of vibe I’m getting. Transylvania-chic.”

“For a brief time in the 1850w but we must never speak of it.” She murmured and raised a hand as if to cover her whisper. “Had a thing for pale blondes. Can you even picture it!? Blech! He had the real thing. The goddess of Night and mother of all that is dark! And to think he wanted something… brighter. Like sunlight!” She practically spit the last word and made gagging motions.

“My girlfriend is blonde.” Percy pipped up.

“Oh, honey… I’m so sorry. Hang in there, okay? I’m sure some dark temptress will come along and…” she paused there, giving a gentle squeeze to his arm. “And what about you?” She whipped around her long hair smacking Percy in the face. He wasn’t sure if it was the speed of her dismissal of how quickly the wooden cart rounded the corner into the next room. “Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Ghoulfriend? No… zombie. Wait! Don’t tel me an eligible bachelor like yourself is single!?” She practically screeched with delight.

“Philotes!” Nyx screamed, and the young goddess immediately turned around.

“Sorry, mother.”

“You okay?”

“If your definition of okay includes being manhandled by Titan goddesses in Tartarus… then I’m amazing.” Nico said darkly, and Percy had never really understood that expression, until the child of Hades’ tone was darker than the actual rooms they were flying through. He could practically feel the shadows radiating around him, as if he were pulling them closer, surrounding himself with them.

“I’ll take that as—”

Before he could finish that sentence he could feel Nico scrambling next to him, messing with his seatbelt. “Percy!” The other tried to warn as he threw the bar open. “Jump.”

“What!?”

The son of Poseidon feels it as the word is half formed in his mouth, not even wholly spoken yet. That strange feeling of both falling and carrying on forward at the same time as the floor in the mansion dropped out beneath them. Nyx is cackling from above; one of the levers must have disengaged their cart from the rest. Another, probably opened a trap door. With the bar no longer across his lap, he fiddles with the seatbelt but the clasp is stuck. So he falls. Because it’s a trap. Of course there was a trap. There was always a trap. But Nico is no longer beside him and as Percy hazards a glance up, he’s sure he can see the ghoulish outline of the other peering over the hole in the floor. He hears, rather than sees, the other slip his stygian blade from his belt and lets out a cry.

No, he doesn’t see the fighting, but he thinks:

          at least this time his fall would be much shorter.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 39

Minor Concussions and Not So Deserted Islands

Annabeth

 


 

“What’s wrong?”

Rainbow stopped suddenly and the noise he made was a regretful bleating, something between a sad lamb and a grumpy lama but wetter. Glancing around, there’s nothing around them to stop their progress. She knew that hippocampi became ill when exposed to pollution but so far as she could tell the ocean around them was azure and crisp and Rainbow wasn’t sniffling or sneezing bubbles.

“You can’t take me any further, can you?”

The daughter of Athena might not speak aquatic dialects like Percy but she was rewarded but a knowing blink and lowering of the hippocampus’ head as if in recognition. Whatever the reason, he couldn’t go on. For all she knew, this was as far as the sand dollar could take her… or perhaps these waters were infested with any number of the Oceanids.

The island isn’t unreachable but it’s a distance far greater than the blonde demigod is comfortable with; she loops her hair around and around making a messy bun of it, using one of the hair bands around her wrist to secure it. The last thing she needs is for the waves to batter her hair into her eyes leaving her hopeless; she might be able to swim but she’s never swam in the deep ocean and never in the ocean without Percy. Swallowing, her mind tries to quickly estimate the distance but stops. Maybe it’s better not to know the specifics just this once.

“Thank you.” Annabeth presses a quick kiss to Rainbow’s head and tickles behind his ear. She’s rewarded with a burbling series of chuffs, which she takes as laughter. “I’ll be sure to tell Percy how helpful you’ve been, Rainbow. And I’ll tell him that you say ‘hello’. Thank you, friend.” She slips off his back and into the water, arms slow in their skimming of the water, allowing her to tread as she gets accustomed to the temperature.

I feel extra buoyant. There must be an unusually high concentration of salt.

Annabeth’s thoughts are interrupted by a spray of droplets; Rainbow was as extra as the son of Poseidon, saying goodbye with a number of airborne somersaults before disappearing into the deep after waving his hoof/flipper at her.

Okay, Annabeth. Let’s see how well swimming lengths of an Olympic swimming pool have prepared you for a few miles in the ocean.

As it turned out, and to literally no one’s surprise, not very well. Or at all. By the time she washed up on the beach, she was half drowned. The moment her face hits damp sand she let out a gurgle, spitting up salt water, before giving something close to a sigh of relief. Who know that a million million grains of worn down dead things could feel like Nirvana? Ragged fingernails dug into the damp sand just to have something to hold onto, anchoring herself and reassuring herself that she had in fact made it to shore and not drank the ocean dry. Every muscle in her body aches, including ones she didn’t have names for yet (she’d have to look them up so she could explain exactly how exhausted she was).

What she did next was hardly the most graceful or elegant thing she’d ever done on a quest, and definitely was one that she wasn’t going to admit. Annabeth did her best impression of crawling, physically dragging herself across the beach to where damp sand gave way to dry and promptly collapsed. Everywhere. It was everywhere, just like her hair.

When did I lose my hair tie? Lifting a hand, she shoved the mass of blonde curls (more like nest) from her face. In the process she discovered several pieces of seaweed, some inhabited by living things. If it didn’t take so much energy, she would have shuddered and if she were being totally honest? Because she was alone, she probably would have shrieked and did one of those pointless wiggly dance slash run away in circles type things while gagging. But she didn’t have the energy so she gave it a half hearted toss all of a few inches. Her heart felt like it was falling — and maybe it was. Or maybe it already had. Far down to the depths of the darkness and then further still… with Percy.

I hope you’re okay, seaweed brain. I will get back to the others and we will meet you.

But in the meantime? In the meantime, Annabeth was going to just close her eyes for a second. Or several hundred seconds. “Just to catch my breath a little.” With that the exhausted demigod fell into a fitful but much needed sleep ignorant of the sand fleas and sea gulls and whatever or whoever else called the beach home.

 


 

“Percy!” She woke up screaming, the feeling of him being ripped from her arms leaving her empty and for a moment paralyzed. She couldn’t move and something was tugging at her, yanking her hair from her head. It’s just a nightmare, she thought, and with her brain still half asleep, probably Percy. He always managed to roll around and wind up on her hair, and when he moved, it inevitably tugged and woke her. But the next yank was harder. Not Percy… Percy fell… the part of her becoming more conscious whispered. Because Percy had fallen to Tartarus with Nico and… and Annabeth was somewhere on an island she didn’t know.

“Ow! Quit it!” She shouted.

Stormy grey eyes were met with unblinking but watchful beady black ones. The seagull tilted its head sideways as if checking out the half drown girl’s point of view before prompting helping itself to the contents of her nest of hair once more, and in the process, gave a good whack to her skull with its beak. There was a fairly colorful description of what the demigod thought of the bird as she slapped at it and sat up. It hissed and gave a few unhappy screeches before finally flying away to look for its next meal elsewhere.

“Give my strength,” she prayed of any of the gods — her mother, maybe, if she was in sound enough mind — because Annabeth was sure she was being tested though she didn’t know by who or for what. “Probably to see how absolutely screwed your life can get before you go full nuclear.” She would have had to admit the seagull munching on whatever was currently residing in her salt encrusted hair was close to the breaking point.

There was a pain building behind the backs of her eyes, a pressure building, as if it were trying to push them out of their sockets. On top of being covered in sand and probably being sunburned (she didn’t know how long she’d been asleep but the tide had gone out and was beginning to come in once more), her mouth felt like sandpaper… as in there was literally sand in her mouth. But Annabeth was too dehydrated to spit, so instead rolled her tongue around in her mouth and grimaced. Dehydrated. So dehydrated. She needed water. And food, was added to her mental checklist as her stomach chose to make itself known with its own interrogation. Food? It groaned. So that was two things she needed to do… in addition to figure out where she was and how she could get back to her friends. One thing at a time, Annabeth, she scolded herself as she pushed herself to her feet.

The problem, the daughter of Wisdom, soon realized was that there was no one around. Clapping the sand from her hands, she tried to then use them to get as much of the grit off of her as possible. Her clothes were still damp but drying quickly in the heat of the sun As she did a quick twirl around to survey the beach, she lifted a hand to shield her eyes. The beach was white sand, glittering in the rising sun, but darker where the water danced and retreated as the tide progressed. The horizon, for all its pastel painted sky and blue green water gave no hint of anything manmade. No boats. No far off landscape. No jet skis or yachts or airplanes. Nada. And the beach itself? Pristine. Untouched. Her own exhale felt like it was disturbing the gentle calm. There was not a single piece of litter to suggest man had ever known it (and with man, unfortunately, always came pollution). The only debris were water softened pebbles and sea glass, whatever had been washed up from the sea— the largest of which, by far, was Annabeth herself.

The sea gulls, beyond the one attempting to feast upon the contents of her hair, stayed away and regarded her with curious but skeptical eyes and kept their distance. Further inward, the beach gave way to luscious green and long sea grass swaying in the breeze. There were trees, tropical, from the high branches. Similar to palm trees but different. She didn’t recognize all the varieties but some were flowered and in the air hung the scent of juniper and cedar.

The beach has to end somewhere. So her feet began to wake her forward, picking a direction, and walking along the water line. For all the challenges she’d encountered with her friends recently, it would figure that the daughter of Wisdom might have washed up on the one as-of-yet discovered island in the entire world. She walked a few miles, circling the island’s beach until she found herself looking at a very Annabeth shaped outline in the sand with footprints before her… but there up ahead from the greenery came a different set… that then disappeared after they approached her own. As she kneeled down next to her footprints, fingertips hovered just above. They weren’t as clear as the original set that first left where she’d fallen asleep. Whoever it was had the good sense to use the steps as a guide, fitting their tread inside her own. Her feet weren’t particularly large, and the disturbance was minimal, so either it was a young boy or possibly another woman.

Annabeth’s thoughts didn’t get any further than that because as she stood up something very hard slammed the back of her head and the sun went out.

 


 

For the second time that day, Annabeth wakes without any idea where she is but this time, instead of a white sandy beach, she’s in some kind of cave. There’s a dull throbbing at the base of her skull and when she lifts her head, she feels woozy, her stomach rolling with nausea. Concussion. She self diagnoses, because what demigod hasn’t been concussed about a million times in their lives? Thank the gods for nectar and ambrosia, they don’t wind up punch drunk in their old age… usually… if they make it that far. Groaning, she blinks a few more times trying to will her eyes to focus.

The light is soft, flickering, and dancing against the walls and from the scent, there’s a fire somewhere out of her line of sight. When she tries to turn, her wrists yank. Of course you’re tied up, Annabeth. Why wouldn’t you wake up in a cave tied up? And honestly, her first thought is cyclops. She’s going to be made into stew by some island dwelling monster — that’s the best case scenario. Worst case is that the monster wants to make her his bride and there’s a lot of other unpleasant things that follow that, but Annabeth’s thoughts are halted there.

“Good, you’re awake.”

The voice is melodious, like a song but without the singing. She can’t see the female but from the shadows forming against the walls of the cave, she can tell it’s a shapely woman. Tall, almost willowy, but generous curves where they’ve most desired.

“I’m tied up. Not sure what your definition of ‘good’ is but I’d say this is the opposite.” Ugh. Percy was rubbing off on her. Snarky back talk before a fight was normally his thing.

The lady, whoever she was, laughed, breathy and not unlike a music box. Something about it was soothing and for a moment, Annabeth forgot that she was trapped… She shook her head. Try as she might, the knots in the rope around her wrists was too tight. Her hands and arms were beginning to go numb, and the post or whatever it was she was tied to wasn’t giving way no matter how hard she tugged or turn. With her mobility seriously limited, Annabeth attempted to get her legs under her and kneel, raise her arms up (she wasn’t double jointed but if it came to hyper extending or dislocating something in the name of escaping, she was going to have to grin and bare it). No luck. Although she felt no barrier, her arms lifted so high and then stopped, as if held by an invisible force.

“The knot, the rope, and the post are enchanted. You can try what you like, but the only thing you’ll accomplish is tiring yourself.”

Grey eyes narrowed. Okay, so the lady had magic. Add in desert island in the middle of the ocean. Already, the list of potential immortals or monsters was considerably limited. Come on, Annabeth, think! She chided herself but trying to focus and pluck a specific thought was impossible. It would be on the tip of her tongue, just within her grasp, and slip through her fingers lost once more. Between the dehydration and what was probably a mild concussion, her mental acuity was compromised. Great. And when your gods given talent is wisdom and wit… you’re concussed and can’t use it. That’s super helpful, mom. Normally she didn’t envy Percy or Jason or even Nico or Hazel but what she wouldn’t give for some kind of latent ability to snap her fingers and turn her captor into a salt spring or something.

“I’m pretty sure if you’re going to kidnap someone, it’s common courtesy to show your face.”

“You’re a feisty one, aren’t you?”

A moment later, the woman stepped into view but she couldn’t have been older than eighteen, maybe nineteen. Her almond eyes were watchful, curious even, as she circled around the demigod and came near, kneeling before Annabeth and meeting her eyes as if to get a good look at her. Her hair was woven into the most intricate and delicate french braids she had ever seen, caramel and glistening in the light of the fire. Those tendrils that fell loose danced across her shoulders, twisting in curls looking equal parts effortless and natural. A golden headband (wore more like a crown) decorated with twinkling jewels adorned her head. Across the bridge of her nose was a smattering of freckles, but they reminded her more of constellations though she wasn’t sure why. The bright white of her sundress contrasted with the sun kissed color of her skin.

“I— I’m not feisty.” She sputtered.

“You’re a mess.” Annabeth didn’t have anything to say about that. Her clothes were salt crusted, there was definitely sand in places she’d rather not mention, she could really use the toilet, and she’d probably kill a man for a burger and a slurpee about now. She didn’t even want to think about what the rest of her looked like.

“That’s sort of the state of my life right now.” She finally answered.

The wide eyed teen grasped her chin between her hands and turned her face one way and then the other, as if searching for something. “I don’t understand how you found my island.”

“To be honest, I didn’t. This crazy ice blast goddess attacked my friends and I… something exploded… I wound up flying across the ocean. I had a sand dollar and I used it to get Rainbow— he’s a hippocampus— to bring me to land. I guess your island was closest.” Why was she babbling? Why was she talking at all? Annabeth forced her mouth shut.

Yeah, just tell your whole life story to the ethereal lady who’s probably going to suck your soul out or feed your liver to her pet anaconda. Inwardly she cringed at herself. Another few seconds passed and the girl nodded, as if accepting that answer.

“You were brought here by a hippocampus.”

It’s not a question, but it’s clear she wants further details.

“Mostly. He stopped a few miles out. I got the feeling that he couldn’t come any closer.”

She nodded as if in agreement and stood, brushing off the knees of her dress though it was as white and pristine, unsullied by the cave floor. With a snap of her long fingers, the ropes fell from Annabeth’s wrists and she could move them once more. Blood immediately rushed back to her appendages causing pins and needles so she shook them, trying to will the life back into them and the unpleasant not-quite-numbness away as she stood.

“That would make sense. I’m surprised you made it to the island.”

“It wasn’t exactly difficult. I mean, I nearly drown, but swimming in an ocean isn’t really my thing.”

Without prompting, the girl practically floated over to a basin and dipped a wooden up, coming back with what Annabeth assumed was collected rain water. It was cool, almost sweet against her tongue, and she didn’t stop to breathe until she had emptied the whole thing. Instantly, she felt better, tongue dragging across her chapped lips. Normally she’d be worried it might have been drugged or enchanted but she was so dehydrated, she was willing to take the chance. “So you’re not going to eat me?”

“No… I can’t say I’ve ever eaten a human. Demigod or otherwise, though, I’m sure many of my sisters have dabbled. I never saw the appeal.”

“I’m sorry— who are you? I feel like I know but,” she motioned to the bump at the back of her head. It didn’t feel like it had bled but there was a massive egg there. Yup. She wasn’t in her best state at the moment.

“Ah— yeah, I’m really sorry about that. I’m going to be honest with you, I panicked when I saw you. I’d heard screams coming from the beach. They sounded panicked—”

“I-- I had a nightmare.”

“I left in such a hurry I didn’t think to grab anything for protection. I realized I was unarmed by the time I made it to the beach and… you must understand, there aren’t many visitors to my island and never any women. My stars, it’s been so long since I’ve seen another girl. I was scared.”

“Is it just you here?”

“Yes…”

“How long?”

“I’m afraid it’s been a few years since the last demigod washed up on these shores. Once in a lifetime, the gods tease me with a companion, for a time. They never stay long.”

There it was, a tingling, a niggling feeling somewhere in the back of her mind. Annabeth attempted to will it forth as she combed her fingers through her hair, brushing the salty strands behind her ears, but couldn’t force the name to come to her, nor the stories.

“Just long enough to heal an old heartache… and leave their own mark on my heart. But the gods have never sent me a girl before… that’s new.” The girl glances over her shoulder at Annabeth, almond eyes drifting across her form before she turned back to their path. Without thinking, she was following the enchantress through the cave— it was decorated with tapestries, intricate and immaculate, as well as a number of potted plants and flowers, many of which were lined and growing up or down to stretch towards the ceiling or the floor, and many times, tangling with other species as if braided much like the other girl’s hair. Stepping out of the cave, the sun was setting over the canopy of trees and the forest was alive with birds singing.

“Is the war over?”

The question sounded hopeful, like she’d been meaning to ask it from the moment Annabeth woke but hadn’t been quite sure how to put it. It hit her then, the name slotting into place. Calypso. Percy had promised her that she would be freed of her island paradise prison and the Gods, after the Battle of New York, had agreed to his concessions. But Calypso… was still here. Still waiting for those who might wash up on her shore and bring her company. Closing her eyes, she chewed on her bottom lip before turning to meet the other’s gaze.

“Yes. We lost so many… the Roman demigods did as well.”

“Ah,” she nodded as if not at all surprised, her fingers brushed against the bark of a nearby tree. She stopped there, hesitating in her movement and in her words, before she turned back around, leaned against the tree trunk, crossed one sandaled foot in front of the other. A few stray locks fell across her face, eyelashes slowly batting. “Will you take me with you? When you leave… will you bring me?”

Annabeth stepped forward and took the other girls’ hand in her own and didn’t hesitate. “Yes, Calypso, I will.”

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 40

Nico Does Not Need a Girlfriend

Nico

 


 

To what would be the great surprise of probably every single resident of Camp Half Blood and Camp Jupiter, Nico di Angelo had never stepped foot in a haunted house. Okay, so maybe he’d been in houses that were actually really haunted but not the kind that cost $10 around Halloween. Despite being a child of Hades, spending the majority of his time in the Underworld with the companies of ghosts and ghouls and all sorts, he’d never found himself riding through a haunted corn field or walking room to room where backlights or strobe lights made people nauseous while people dressed as mummies or monsters tried to get him to scream. The whole thrill thing was sort of lost on him since he could spend his time with real creepy crawlies (and the Underworld had a lot, though, he was starting to realize, maybe not nearly as much as Tartarus). So really, Nico didn’t exactly have anything to compare Nyx’s mansion to but he was pretty confident that what mortals had imagined of haunted houses probably wasn’t far off.

Maybe after this whole ordeal he’d make a point of going to one.

That last thought, really, was wishful thinking. Don’t focus on that right now, he chided himself. Because what they had to do was meet Bob and to meet the Titan they were going to have to make it through the mansion, escaping a murder of gods and goddesses (because murder was entirely appropriate because they were so going to kill them if the demigods didn’t get out and quick). So really it was just a typical Tuesday for Nico and Percy.

He had felt it seconds before it had happened, just like he could sense the general direction of the Doors of Death. But seconds were only long enough to shout the other boy’s name in warning whilst his fingers scrabbled to unhook the bar that was fastened across their laps keeping them inside the car. Nico had climbed onto the back of the car attempting to grab Percy as he went but fingers made of mist were too thin, too weak to materialize and cooperate that quickly. And Percy. Percy Jackson just looked at him with his sea green eyes wide and waiting explanation before crashing through the floor and disappearing in the dark. Nico groaned despite himself, just as he cursed the son of Poseidon. Couldn’t be a little quicker on the uptake, could you? No, relax into the ride like they weren’t going to kill us the first second they had the chance. Nyx— or one of her children, but it really didn’t matter who— must have been waiting to trigger their trap.

Worry about Percy later. You can’t help him if you’re not alive.

“I’ll take the most pleasure in feasting on you, child of Hades.”

Nico looks up from the precipice but he’s too slow. Nyx is on him, pain flaring up his left arm as her claws rip through flesh like a hot knife through butter. Already he can feel the blood flowing down his arm as he pulls his sword from its hilt and lunges, but she beats her wings and he’s knocked backwards, tumbling. Nico lets out a growl and throws himself forward, running and jumping, using the wall as a springboard to throw himself higher until his sword slices through one of her wings. Nyx screeches and as he falls back to the ground, he’s sure his eardrums will be ringing that same pitch until he’s gone deaf to it. Being made of mist has made him unsure off is footing, so he lands wrong on one ankle and rolls, trying to catch himself.

“Being made of mist is getting really fucking inconvenient.” He mumbles to himself. What he wouldn’t give for an honest-to-gods solid body. The kind that’s totally made of flesh and blood, not some death mask that’s sending him frozen to his core. Just as Nico is about to try putting what limited weight he has onto the injured foot, Nyx is on him once more. From her impossibly dark robes she revealed talons, long and flexible. They gouge at his side before he punches him with the humanoid hand that adorns end of one of her wings (humanoid in that it can make a fist, but it’s most definitely clawed like an animal).

The breath escapes Nico in a hiss as he’s thrown to the side, crashing into the wall and something else. Maybe a mirror. Whatever it was, it broke. The taste of metal filled his mouth, teeth slicing through his cheek and his lip, before falling onto the bad ankle once more. His stygian blade clatters to the ground but it’s somewhere down the hall, out of his reach, and Nyx is between him and it. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he mutters and using every ounce of his concentration he calls to the shadows, to pull them to him, to wrap around him, to become them. Shadow mimicry is dangers, even if someone knows what they’re doing (which, honestly, when has Nico ever?). It’s something he’s only attempted a handful of times, but what other choice was there? Nyx is 40 feet and he was compromised even before the fight began. I am a shadow. He repeats to himself silently, as he draws them closer, calling them to him, until finally he joins them.

“Where did you go!? You can’t escape! I will find you!”

Nico wouldn’t be able to keep the form long so he moved, silent and imperceptible through the house of night as quickly as he could, clinging to corners and just out of the corners of eyes. From one room to the next, up a little, and then back down, through a hallway, up another flight of stairs. He was weightless. The type of thing a cat stared at in the corner of a room, flicking its tail, unsure why its human cannot see what is right in front of its imperceptive face. Nico was a shade, and it’s not quite shadow traveling because with traveling he’s going through them but not quite one of them and at the moment? Right then he was one. Nico was a shadow. He’s the dark that clung to spaces the light could not quite reach and it was only a few minutes, but Nico might have run a marathon when he snapped back into being, anchored to the physical world once more. His heart was racing, banging in his ears almost as loud as the whooshing of blood through his body. It was straining, just like his lungs, and for a moment he is drowning despite his head above water and land so close his fingertips might scrape against it. All he could do was cling to himself, arms around his stomach, hunched over misty knees as he willed everything to work, for his stomach to stop knotting and rolling, the ground to stop quaking beneath his feet.

Tartarus.

The death mist.

It’s killing me.

Everything was working against him and his body was burning out.

Come on. Just a little longer. We’re almost there, I can feel it.

The doors weren’t far now. Nico could feel them… they weren’t far from the edge of Nyx’s mansion, and beyond that would be Bob, waiting for them. And beyond Bob would be Styx. And beyond Styx would be the doors… and whatever else waited for them when they made it there. Honestly, it was probably better not to think about that last part. Titans. Gods. Monsters. An entire army against two demigods and a Titan who now worked full time as a janitor to the Underworld? The odds weren’t exactly in their favor.

When he opened his eyes, he glanced at the arm Nyx had attacked; being a shadow had done nothing to stop the bleeding. It started again the second he snapped back to himself. When Nico finally brought his hand away from his chest— only when he was certain it was actually going to stay there— he did a quick once over himself. Everything else felt like it was in place, though half of himself felt like it was on fire. His calf was aching and with each deep breath he took, pain shot up his side. He went to reach for his stygian blade and found the sheath empty. Of course. He’d dropped it and unlike Riptide, it wouldn’t be returning to his pocket.

So in summary: you’re injured, you don’t have a weapon, Percy is who-knows-where, and you’re probably going to have to save him before you can get out of the mansion before Nyx and her legion of creepy children find you. That seemed to about sum it up. Nico rolled his eyes to himself. Of course that was his life. Fortunately, his injured ankle was weight baring, so he took off down the hallway letting his senses reach out for that familiar spark of life he knew to be Percy Jackson. Because he could feel him, if he tried, from anywhere. That unique spark that was his essence, amongst all the other souls that would someday find they way to the Underworld. “You’re alive, so that’s something.” He murmured to himself. Opening his eyes again, he began to creep along the hallway toward emptier space he was sure would be a staircase.

Just as he slid passed an empty doorway he heard a squeal.

“Why there you are! Naughty thing, there’s no wandering off from the tour! Unless you’re hoping for a tour of my room.”

“Friendship,” he groaned. That was one thing he definitely didn’t need.

“Oh, you remembered! Of course, you can call me Lottie. Only my nearest and dearest do and I have a feeling we’re going to get to know each other extremely well. Don’t you think?” The goddess gushed as she came closer, batting long eyelashes at him as she threw hair back over her shoulder. Maybe she would have been pretty, desirable even, but her lips were drawn on with pencil and lip gloss above and beyond the natural shape of her lips as if she were trying to remake herself. Girls wore makeup, he knew that, but she took contouring to a whole different level than those tutorials he caught Hazel watching. She’d given herself cheekbones she could cut a demigod with and from how she was hovering, it looked like he was next.

“I don’t think so… especially not the way you make it sound.”

Nico groped the wall behind him, attempting to find anything at all. There was art, random pedestals with statutes and his fingers brushed behind him across one. He had no idea what it was, what it was worth, or what it was made of but it felt solid and heavy in his hands. Nico took a broad swipe with his statute-turned-bludgeoning-object but only managed to knick her shoulder. The extra weight of the statute carried him forward, something he hadn’t factored for, and brought the son of Hades into range for Lottie to give him a swift roundhouse kick to the ribs, knocking the air from his lungs.

“I love a man who plays hard to get. It’s so much more gratifying when I finally get to sink my teeth into him.” There was a licking noise, either the gnashing of her teeth or the tapping of her nails — both conjured up a picture of a cartoon villain.

Whipping around, Nico used both hands on the statute this time, and succeeded in clubbing her against the jaw. Her head snapped backwards, long strands of midnight hair whipping back as it happened. Without a sword he wouldn’t last long. He needed to lose her but she was blocking the way forward and he didn’t want to back track in case Nyx was on his trail. As Philotes righted her head, she spit out what might have been a tooth before giving him a massive bloody grin complete with gap tooth. “Oh, you have no idea how much I like it a little rough. It’s been so long since I’ve had someone who made the effort worth it.”

The words sent a chill up the back of his spine. Nico rolled, narrowly missing her lightning light reflexes as she attempted to roundhouse him once more. His brain was buzzing, that natural ability switching on as a hundred different things happened at once, each sliding into focus.

One, throw his legs up and out and land crouching on his feet.

Two, somersault out of the way as she attacked again.

Three, wide arc up connecting the end of the three foot long statute to send her head reeling to the side.

Four, Percy was still alive but down… down that staircase beyond her.

Five, use the wall to spring forward, smashing her once more with the statute.

Six, leave that unnecessary weight behind and let the momentum take him forward.

She howled in pain and he had a feeling this time he’d knocked loose more than just a couple of teeth.

“These are veneers!” She bellowed. “One tooth is hard enough to get replaced but  five? Do you know how much it’s going to cost to get them redone!?”

“Well I thought you were supposed to be friendly. What part of attacking me and groping me outside of your mansion is nice?”

Nico might have made it over, the staircase now to his back as they’d switched positions, but he couldn’t just make a mad sprint for it. She would catch up to him. Letting out an enraged cry, her makeup was smudged and beginning to run. It was just his luck she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror hung in the hall because she paled almost visibly.

Oops. Maybe trying to beat up on a goddess using a piece of art wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.

“I am so much more than friendship.” He ducked and dodged, somersaulted backwards to escape her punches and kicks, but the last one was too slow and she landed a hit in his ribs once more. This time he felt something snap, pain flaring through his left side. “It’s about relationships. Social. Sexual. They have their softer sides and their darker sides…” His blood chilled in his veins.

“I’m not in the market for a girlfriend, or friends for that matter.”

Nico dodged another hit, inching further back towards the stairs. He happened a glance over his shoulder and they were getting closer, but they were still too far. Nico called upon the shadows to help him move with the grace and speed of a shade as she made her next lunge. Please work, he pleaded and she missed him, the arm she scraped dissipating briefly like someone attempting to bat at smoke. He felt the tug in the depth of his gut as he called the particles back together reforming his arm.

“A child of Hades!? It’s like we’re a match made in Olympus.” She flashed a wicked smile, her teeth sharp as she flicked long black strands of hair over her shoulder. “I’m just looking for a little fun before we eat. Mother always did say I had a problem playing with my food.”

The goddess giggled from behind a manicured hand, as if she’d let him in on a secret she wasn’t meant to share. Playing with her food… That meant they intended to eat them. Not just murder them because they were demigods. Nico shuddered. Why did literally every single thing in Tartarus want to turn them into a meal?

Percy… you need to find Percy.

Before Philotes could exit her stance to attack once more, and before Nico had finished the thought, the goddess dropped to the floor landing in an unconscious pile. Stepping from the shadows of the doorway was a woman—and he used the term pretty loosely— gnarled claws where hands should have been, stringy hair falling in a tangled mess over emaciated shoulders, eyes somewhere between smiling and scowling. Raising one of her hands, she presented Nico with his stygian blade.

“I have a proposition for you,” she rasped. 

Nico took his blade.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 41

Nico Finds a Friend in Violent Death

Nico

 




With Philotes passed out on the floor, Nico had no idea how long she would stay that way or how long it would be before Nyx and her other children found them. Although he had his blade back in his hand, the weight familiar and calming (albeit a little heavier than he remembered… probably the whole limbs made of mist thing), he didn’t like their chances if they didn’t do something to hide the body and distance themselves. The goddess before him— though she looked more like a demon and honestly, the prince of the Underworld had run into a few of them more than a time or two— watched him carefully. Where her mother’s eyes were supernovas, the nameless goddesses were milky; perhaps they had once been the same as his own but time covered them with a thick layer of mucus and with each blink, tears threatened to spill (not because she was crying but because they were so moist). The tone of her skin was a corpse sat in the sun too long, both sallow and expired and yet her flesh was pock marked with gruesome welts and blemishes.

“We should hide her.”

“I would tie her up for good measure.” She rasped, the air practically shuddering as she spoke. It raised the hairs on the back of the demigod’s neck.

“Honestly, I couldn’t agree more.”

“Of course, that’s one of her things.” She made was he assumed were supposed to be air quotes but her long fingers were gnarled so he was loosely interpreting the motion. Maybe the whole making a deal thing was a bad idea but from the size of her, and given he wasn’t exactly the biggest guy for his age regardless of the mist, he decided to skip the skepticism for the time being.

“Gross,” he muttered before motioning. “Grab her arms.”

Rather than speaking, she nodded and honestly? Nico was thankful. Maybe it was the glint of fangs in the eerie not-quite-light, long and protruding over her bottom lip. Or the fact that where her nose should have been there was some sort of proboscis type thing. It hung, long and thin and given the end was stained a deep rust, he could assume it served one purpose and one purpose only: to drink blood. It didn’t explain why her mouth was filled with teeth that would given any predator a scare but it was her ‘nose’ that must have been responsible for the whistling like noise she made when she spoke. If the nose was for drinking, he imagined that the teeth… well, they must be for tearing and that didn’t entirely eliminate her wanting to eat (or drink) the son of Hades for dinner. Nico was glad to have his sword once more.

A little further down the hallway on one of the doors was a pink glitter and sequin bedazzled sign proclaiming PHILOTES in bold scrawling letters. Without bothering to look inside, he threw the door open and switched the lights on. The room was surprisingly bright for a mansion of near darkness. Then again, her makeup had been intricate and he supposed there was no way to do that in the dark. Like honestly, what was the point in doing makeup if no one was going to see it? And even if anyone did see you… the mansion was so dark they couldn’t have seen a whole lot anyway. It just felt like a waste.
Not now, you need to focus.

But his brain was buzzing and somehow the other goddess— the demon one— still hadn’t attempted to flay him alive or take a taste. She kept what Nico would have considered a respectable (or skeptical) distance.Nico glanced up at the emaciated goddess at he grabbed Philotes’ feet and giving a groan, attempted to haul their surprisingly heavy captive off the ground. It took a bit of glancing over his shoulder back and forth but eventually they made it, him near blind in the light of their captive’s room until she could be unceremoniously dropped onto her bed. It didn’t go unnoticed that her sister took little care and smacked Philotes’ head against the doorframe and then onto the wall when she heaved Philotes on the bed. There was a brief murmuring followed by a snore that would have given a chainsaw a run for its money, but his would-be-abductress was still out cold. Philotes’ sister stood tall and rail thin with milky eyes that followed him. It made Nico want to reach for his sword but he remained still for a moment. Silent. He could go days without making a noise and yet under her bleary eyed gaze even his breathing felt loud and haggard. When he moved it was to begin searching for anything that could act as rope to tie up the goddess… Between that and a good few stabs of his stygian blade it should take her some time to come back full strength and alert the others.

“You said you had a proposition.”

“I do,” she answered.

Yeah… way to be super helpful. Nico could feel the eyeball building itself. He waited a few beats but she didn’t bother to clarify anything for him but at least she moved away from him towards the door to keep watch. Finally, Nico found a number of scarves and giving them a good few tugs, he chose the ones that seemed the most sturdy. Fortunately, he knew all manner of knots and taking one wrist at a time, he tied her to the bed frame before moving onto her legs. He was careful to ensure they were tight. Nico slid his blade from its holster and stabbed her between the ribs, his chest going tight and his vision blurring, his body shaking. Somewhere inside of him, from the darkest corner of his mind, came the voice not unlike his own but also different.

She would have trapped you just like the jar. But the jar would have been better, wouldn’t it? Because at least in the jar you were alone… and the things she would have done to you. Can you even say the things she would have done to you? You would have cried, begged her to stop, and she would have done it again and again. She would have toyed with you, a cat with a mouse, but she would not let you die. No, not for a very long time.

There was a vice around his heart and around his lungs, his heady was woozy and the room felt like it was bucking left and then right. It was wrong, he knew, but his limbs were not his own. The second time he stabbed her, he exhaled. The third time blurred into the forth and into the tenth and he wasn’t sure when he began screaming but eventually the twentieth or so and Nico was shaking with exhaustion and his throat was raw. There were tears streaming down his face; he didn’t know when those had started either but he couldn’t turn them off straight away. When he tried to step back he practically stumbled, though there was nothing for him to trip over. Nico’s legs were not his own, but eventually he found the wall and slid down against it until he was seated, staring at the goddess that had so casually touched him, so crassly made light of how she would have used him if the other goddess had not intervened. Sniffling, he lifted his free hand and wiped at his eyes and nose. His breathing was heavy as he picked up his sword (he must have dropped it when he’d sat) and  wiped his blade clean of her, staining the plush carpet until the stygian iron was free of her.

The other watched, silent, still, smiling.

Nico knew he would not forget the feeling.

It took another minute or two— time you don’t have… time Percy doesn’t have— but eventually Nico pushed himself to his feet once more.

 “How long do you think she’ll be out? Before she can regenerate?” Nico hiccuped and gave the bed a wide berth.

“Not so long as she deserves.” The emaciated goddess stepped closer, giving her sister a once over before leaning down, inspecting the body. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but the son of Hades was sure that she inhaled her scent. “She’s a monster, you know. I don’t pretend to be better, but that’s just it, isn’t it? False pretenses… you wouldn’t have been the first, you know. Nor the youngest. And you wouldn’t have been the last. Being confined to Tartarus has twisted her.” There was no judgement in the goddesses’ voice, each rasp factual, but it was laced with just a hint of contempt. When satisfied with Nico’s handiwork, her proboscis slipped into one of the wounds, just between her ribs. From the sucking nose, Nico was sure that she took a long sip, eyes closed and lips curled up in delight. He should have felt bad but he only felt cold. “Violence takes so much sweeter when it’s personal. Not as delicious as if she were human or demigod, you see, but I can hardly afford to be choosey.” The way her ribs were poking out, Nico was positive it was true.

When she was finished, the goddess stood and the tattered rags she called clothes were so threadbare and torn that Nico had to avert his eyes to basically anywhere else in the room. Not only was basic hygiene apparently not her thing— and, hey, who was he to judge? because he had definitely been homeless for months at a time and who knew better than him how hard it was to find showers (before he’d gotten better at shadow traveling, anyway)—  but neither was finding articles of clothing that did not expose her practically bare breasts. It was way more than he wanted to see and they were more or less eye level. If Nico wasn’t careful he was going to get a face full and that was honestly a sight that would scar him for the rest of his life, no matter how long.

“That will keep her a little longer.”

Nico was about to ask what she meant but the goddess reached up and in a motion that looked like she wasn’t even trying, ripped her sister’s jaw from it’s hinges and dropped it onto her chest, tongue flapping about. Thankfully he hadn’t eaten properly since before the whole jar incident otherwise he was sure the contents of his stomach would have joined the dark ichor staining her rug. He wasn’t squeamish, but he also hadn’t prepared himself for that.

“There is no need to feel guilty. You know what she would have done to you, at least you can guess. I can promise you it would have been much worse.”

That voice… it was his, but it was inspired by her. Nico was positive.

“You’re a goddess of violent death,” he surmised, wiping at his eyes one final time. “I thought there were more of you.” They had had their own mythomagic card and, if he remembered correctly, they would scour the field to pick off the injured and the wounded for the remaining turns, sucking the life from a player’s opponents until their health was depleted.

“I can be one… or I can be many. It has been some time since I have been many.” When she turned once more he had to quickly avert his eyes. Nico scrambled to Philotes closet and without much prejudice, found a dress and shoved it at the other goddess.

“However many of you there are… you need to put this on. How are you not freezing?” Nico kept his gaze away, arm shoved in her general direction. He felt a tug on the hanger and after a moment turned to find the death goddess wearing a bright pink polka dotted sundress. It was probably four sized too big for her and given the state of her it didn’t do any favors but Nico heaved a sigh of relief.

“My form… it distracts you?”

“I was really hoping to go the rest of my life without seeing,” he waved his hand vaguely in her direction clearly indicating her form or something like it, “in the flesh.”

For a moment he thought she was choking but the way her eyes were closed made laugh lines. “Yes, I understand. Anyway, we must hurry. Your friend will not have long. Mother fancies herself a cook ever since she discovered Martha Stewart.” Nico didn’t need to hear any more to know they needed to move before the other demigod found himself baked into some overcooked pie.  

Nico switched off the light switch to the room and closed the door behind them.

“Why are you helping me?” He can’t help but whisper to the goddess as they slink along the hallway toward the staircase. It winds down for what feels like forever, he can sense the open space when he reaches with his senses. Feel the stone, the earth, feels where there is none. One hand is on his stygian blade as he follows the goddess down the stone steps further into the recesses of the mansion.

“Because my family are fools. Gaea would kill most of you, enslave the rest. She would do the same with humanity… and what am I meant to eat? Surely there will be much to feast on at the beginning but when the stock runs low I’ll be worse than I am now… And what of Thanatos? Who is he meant to reap once you are all dead? Eris might inspire strife amongst the gods but when Tartarus rises following Gaea’s triumph he will cull us. They will start over, without humans this time. No, the Olympians and their children will be their slaves. There will not be a place for many of us. They are too short sighted to see this.”

“So you’re saying you want to defect? Like… join the Olympians? Be on our side?”

“Humanity has murdered one another violently since it blinked into existence. I am on the side of humanity… the side that will continue to fill my belly until Ker is Keres once more. I will help you and your friend escape, and in exchange, I ride with you through the Doors of Death. From there you do as you please, and I do as I wish. “

There were a few other issues to iron out, but they had the rest of the never ending descent to work it out and in the end, they did. Nico agreed to her terms and she to his. He tried not to think about what the deals made would cost him. No, it was better to focus on what they would grant him: Percy Jackson safe once more.

Echoing up the staircase were voices, and the growing warmth of dancing light; Nico assumed it was a fire. Nico sniffed a few times… was that rosemary?

“Yes… yes, throw in some more spices. That’s right. Bring it to a boil now.”

“I know there are potatoes somewhere around here. Can’t have a stew without potatoes!”

“Don’t forget the onions.”
“Is that… what is that? Garlic! You know I’m allergic! Get that away from me.” Another voice shrieked. “Put it down! Get away from me!”

Shortly after that another shriek filled their ears but this one tore through his heart and froze the blood in his veins. Nico would know that sound anywhere. Percy.

“Looks like they’ve started dinner.”

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 42

Annie Slips Out Of Her Physical Form and Goes for a Global Stroll

Annabeth



Honestly, Annabeth wasn’t complaining about Piper’s horn-o-plenty or anything. It was a nice change to take a bite of her favorite foods when they had a few minutes on a quest instead of wondering and worrying. Normally her stomach would be growling like a feral cat whilst she wondered if she was going to be able to nab a handful of things from a 7Eleven and that was only if they were lucky enough for the-quest-of-the-moment to take them near enough a city or a gas station… and most of the time they were not lucky enough. So honestly, Piper’s cornucopia was great but it held nothing on a home cooked meal. Either that, or Calypso was an exceptional cook. The demigoddess could hardly hold in the sigh that left her as the cool berry compote passed her lips and the fresh cream? It was honestly the most delicious thing she’d ever tasted. Just the right amount of sweet and tart, cool despite the heat of the night and the warmth of the fire. Annabeth ate her fill and then some, not unaware of the was her clothes felt a size or two bigger than they had when she and her friends had begun their quest.

When she was finished, the dishes seemed to disappear. It was a neat little trick of magic, the island cleaning up after itself to ensure it remained pristine. Annabeth’s feet rested against the stones that surrounded the fire pit, sectioning it off from the sand of the beach and the forest floor. They should have burned her but they were only warm enough to provide comfort and relax her wary soles. Annabeth’s hair was still damp, and she took it between her fingers so she might twist and tie it into two braids out of her face and (mostly) off her shoulders. The end of her second day on Ogygia came to a close with her belly full and eyes heavy. For the first time in who-could-remember-how-long (but probably some time before Percy had first disappeared), she felt safe.

“That was incredible.” Annabeth sighed.

Calypso twirled her spoon in her own dessert and gave a small smile in her direction, but from the delight in her eyes, it was humility and humbleness rather than an understanding of her own culinary abilities. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“Honestly, I can’t thank you enough.”

Annabeth leaned forward and gave the other girl’s knee a gentle squeeze. Despite the sort of tying her up thing, Calypso had been a gracious hostess. Not only had she offered Annabeth a home cooked meal, but she’d allowed her to bathe in the natural hotspring not far from her home and brought her clean clothes. They were white linen, light and breezy, woven from her own loom and they were not only beautiful, but fit like a dream. In the mean time her salt crusted clothing had been washed, beaten, washed again, and was currently drying on a line. She honestly wouldn’t haven’t been surprised if she found them mended where the seems had taken a bit of a battering or patched where they were ripped or wearing thin.

Calypso’s long fingers closed over her own.

“There is no need for thanks, Annie. Anything you can do to help me leave this island is more thanks than I could ever require.”

The idea had been born shortly after she had been freed from the teenage goddess’ cave. It had required some vague wording and assumptions, but Annabeth hadn’t been sure how to broach the subject of Percy. Or of who she really was. Her father’s nickname for her— Annie— sounded strange from Calypso’s lips but she wasn’t sure how to tell her the truth.

I will, she reassured herself. When the time is right. Besides, it’s complicated.

And it was. How was she meant to tell the goddess that she was Annabeth. That Percy really could have stayed with her on Ogygia because there had been another demigod, another child of the Big Three, who hadn’t run from the prophecy and would have stepped forth to take his place? But that instead, Percy with all his (sometimes misplaced) loyalty had chosen the save the world perhaps even more than he’d chosen the daughter of Athena. And because of it she had been his choice. The last hero Calpyso had fell in love with had take a raft and sailed towards saving the world and into the arms of another girl. Sort of. It hadn’t happened exactly like that— and upon thinking about it, the daughter of Athena wasn’t so dim as to expect that in saving the world and accepting a potential destiny, their coming together had been an indirect offshoot and not the actual reason Percy had returned.

Regardless… Percy had not broken his promise to Calypso. He had made the gods promise a number of things, acknowledging their children being just one of them. But then there had been the whole rebuilding of the camps and mourning the dead… there was a lot to consider and a lot to do. Calypso had gotten the raw end of the deal. There had been a lot happening and Percy sort of forgot. And then he’d been made to forget by Hera.

And now? Now he was in Tartarus. Staring at the moonlit Ocean with a full stomach, the night no longer felt so warm or nearly as enchanted.

It was all a mess.

“We’ll get you off this island.” Annabeth promised and as she stood, she stretched before the fireplace. “As peaceful as it is out here… I should probably get some sleep. I want to be up first light tomorrow to begin working on how we’re going to get ourselves out of here.”

Maybe it was the dancing shadows cast by the firelight but the goddess’ smile looked more sad than hopeful.

 

 

 

The dried sea grass and canvas that made up Annabeth’s bed shouldn’t have been comfortable enough for her to drift asleep the second her head hit her pillow but she was asleep before she had a moment’s contemplation. How long had it been since she had truly slept? It must have been before Percy had gone missing and from that moment she’d been listless, burning the midnight oil at both ends as she scoured any clue to find her lump of seaweed and save him from whatever fate had befallen him. And since they’d been reunited? There had been so much going on… too much to truly take a second and appreciate the other. Then he’d gone and gotten himself wrapped in Arachne’s web and here she was, drifting from her body and gazing at the sleeping blonde figure below her that she knew to be her physical form. For a moment she gazed at herself, tucked up under the light cotton sheet. She didn’t recognize that girl with the soft features, but why? After all, it was her.

She looks innocent, that’s why. And then, after a moment: I’m sorry that I don’t know you like that. I don’t know who you could be if it weren’t for everything else. I don’t think you know, either.

The goddess’ bed was untouched at the other side of the room. The pillows were still plumped, far too many to be slept upon, and the sheets were tucked in perfectly. Giving a second glance to where she slept, Annabeth’s spirit took flight, out of the cave and into the night air. Whatever she needed to see was waiting for her somewhere out there and as she drifted upwards she noticed Calypso with her caramel skin and moon soaked hair staring out across the moonlit ocean with the tide playing tag at her feet. Before she could wonder what she was searching the horizon for, she was gone.

The stars streaked passed Wisdom’s daughter and she drifted across the world and across thresholds that should have been improbable. For as long as she could remember, Annabeth had hated dreaming. Maybe it was because some were so vivid that when she pushed the covers aside and placed her feet on the floor, she took the images that had played out on her eyelids at night to be real. The first time she had carried on, telling her father all about the day before’s events, wondering when they could do it again he stood, poured himself a cup of coffee and furrowed his eyebrows. In a steady and even tone he’d told her that yesterday had been a school day and her mother hadn’t visited, she wasn’t around to take her on a ferriswheel or the tea cups— and there wasn’t a fairground for them to go on in the first place. He had been hurt at the mention of a mother who had never been there for her, but Annabeth had been positive that it was real. That her mother had visited her with her stormy eyes, strong set jaw, and a beauty that no one could argue that was as much because of the messy updo that kept her hair out of her way for convenience rather than style as it was for her eloquence and brilliance.

Dreams weren’t the same for demigods as they were for humans. It had taken time for Annabeth to understood what she was and when she had, she understood that dreaming for was not the same. Things happened when you slept and sometimes it could be confusing to tell the difference: the difference between a dream and reality, or the difference between a dream and a vision or dream walking. When her head hit the pillow at night, Annabeth wished for a peaceful and oblivious night’s sleep, that when she opened her eyes again the next morning that whatever images might have played out would drift away forgotten just as quickly as the dark left for day.

The darkness of the horizon gave way to light and soon she recognized the approached shore of camp. Despite the summer months the beach was abandoned. A boat was tied to the end of the pier bobbing in the water, the canoes were untouched stacked up on the beach. The stillness unsettled her; the majority of campers spent their time at Camp Half Blood during the school free months and as she floated along the path towards camp, the scent of smoke caught her nose. Somewhere up ahead there was a fire, and at first she wondered why they were having a bonfire so early and why they weren’t having it in the normal spot. When she finally passed the big house, she could see demigods of all ages gathered around while Chiron spoke. Whatever he was saying (because she was too far away to hear and try as she may, she couldn’t make herself get any closer) must have concerned them because the littler ones looked as if they had been crying and clung to the older campers. Clarisse wrapped a muscled arm around one of her younger siblings (the resemblance was uncanny).

There was no time because she kept slipping forward and the further she travelled, she was above the woods and over the rivers and creeks that passed through it. A group of dryads and naiads shied away from her spirit as she floated, tending to wounds. One was unconscious, bleeding in the arms of another as a blue skinned water sprite attempted to reattach one of her limbs with vines and mud. She looked away and saw it then, miles off, smoke rising. Somewhere up ahead the Roman legion was making their way towards camp… A fully fledged and trained army.

Annabeth’s stomach sank.

THEY’RE COMING.

She might be a floating spirit but the familiar voice is like a rumble inside of her own head.

YOUR CAMP WILL BURN. ROMANS AND GREEKS WILL DESTROY ONE ANOTHER AND YOUR FRIENDS WILL FAIL. WHAT IS THE POINT, CHILD OF ATHENA? YOUR OWN PARENTS ARE TORN BETWEEN THEIR NATURES AND SOON YOUR HOME WILL SMOLDER.

“My friends and I will stop you. Whatever happens back home, we’ll save whatever’s left.”

AND WHAT IF THERE IS NOTHING?

“There’s always hope.”

That amused the primordial being and Annabeth wasn’t sure how, but she was sure the rumbling was her laughter. It echoed in her head even as the scenery darkened and changed.

YOU WILL NO MORE FIND HOPE THAN YOU WILL SAVE YOUR FRIENDS.

A crack of lightening split the dark sky in half as Annabeth hung, confused, and knowing the connection to Gaea had been severed. Half a heartbeat later, thunder clapped so close to Annabeth that her teeth might have rattled in her head. Another bold of lightning is not far behind and it just misses her as it zigzagged across the sky. There was a shriek somewhere nearby but it was carried by the wind and impossible to tell which direction it had come from. Annabeth twisted and turned, the scent of scorched ozone thick in her nose. There’s movement beyond the pounding of the rain, but it’s difficult to tell until another shock of lightning dances across the sky.

There’s a pegasus and gryphons approaching fast on its heals.

“Faster!” The rider upon its back shouts. She shouts over the thunder but the wind swallows her voice as her sword is drawn and Reyna— because that’s who it is, Annabeth recognizes her after a moment from the set of her jaw to the hardness of her eyes— shakes her head trying to free her eyes of the unruly strands of dark hair flying in the wind. It was frazzled and a section of it might have been smoldering from where the lightning must have singed it. The pegasus let out a choked wheeze that must have been no duh in response, but from the heaving of the chest and beating to its wings, the dark steed didn’t look like he had much left in him. Despite that, the pegasus pushed harder, if that were possible, at his rider’s command.

The gryphon at the lead roared a command to its comrades, its lion’s fangs dripping in anticipation. Despite the praetor’s best efforts dodging and slashing at flying monsters, even using the storm to attempt whatever slight advantage, their claws still found their way to the pegasus’ side and one’s jaw nearly clamped on his leg. But the flying horse wasn’t one to be outmaneuvered and with an adjustment of its wings caught an updraft just as the lion-like jaws snapped shut where his ankle had been only moments before; the updraft took him higher and higher in the storm. Lightning was more frequent here. The scent of burnt ozone was thick while the air itself was thin and the temperature continued to drop the higher they rose.

Reyna wasn’t going to make it. She wasn’t going to reach the others in time to take the Athena Parthenos and return her to the Greek Camp, putting to rest the feud between the Roman and Greek camps.

Annabeth opened her mouth to shout but the wind went from under her and she plummeted to the earth and then through it towards perpetual darkness.

When she stops falling (and it feels like she’s lost a day if not more) the atmosphere was thick and stifling. Humid. Not quite smoke but whatever was laden in the atmosphere was thicker than dust and yet it wasn’t ash. There was a sense of sinking, or being smothered, like gravity wasn’t content with how far she had fallen and would instead like to draw Annabeth lower still by crushing her into the ground. And gravity would have been the thing because it wasn’t the earth that was trying to pull her under. The daughter of Athena couldn’t feel anything akin to Gaea’s presence. Wherever she was, the earth goddess was no where to be found. No, it was something else entirely. Something she couldn’t quite define.

Her spirit— or whatever it was— moved slowly through the atmosphere as if the air itself were made of molasses. As much as she hated dream walking (or even dreaming in general) she always felt weightless and free. At the moment she felt even heavier than if she’d been anchored to her physical body. There was almost nothing beyond darkness around her and yet she could see, perhaps a benefit of not having a physical body meant not having to wait for her eyes to adjust to the dark. It was like Annabeth knew it should be difficult and yet she could see through things anyway, even if the quality of the vision was turned down.

Almost like bad reception or a bad internet connection.

Wherever she was, there was something like static prickling around the edges, or at least that was the best she could explain it.

I may as well see whatever else it is my mother or the gods or the Fates want to show me.

Annabeth regretted it almost instantly when she heard a shriek.

Chapter Text



Tempting the Fates

Chapter 43

Liar Liar Pants on Fire (Oh and BTW Your Boyfriend’s Probs Gonna Die)

Annabeth




“Percy!”

Darkness closed around her, reaching for her from depths she couldn’t fathom. It reached for her, wrapped around her, and forced its way inside of her stealing the breath from her lungs, choking her as she screamed.

Annabeth’s throat was raw, her shrieks giving way to choking gasping sounds. Her eyes streamed and her nose ran down her face. Every breath felt like it was too much for the constricted feelings of her chest. The darkness threatened to work its way inside, like ice in her veins. Her forehead was slick with sweat and no matter how many times the daughter of wisdom blinked or how many breathes she tried to take, the vice like grip wouldn’t leave her chest. Open or closed didn’t matter, her eyes were unseeing no matter how many times she blinked. Darkness. All around her. Inside her. Above and below her. Her spirit might have returned to her body but part of Annabeth was still down there, down in the darkness.

A hand connected hard with her cheek, tossing her head to the side with a loud crack.


My cheek, she thought as the pain blossomed warm and hot. What is that noise?

It was only then the daughter of Athena realized that horrendous noise, the one like a wounded animal being tortured wasn’t an animal at all.

It’s me.

She swallowed and although her throat felt like razorblades, Annabeth could see once more. The darkness left a shiver up her spine but it had released its grip on her. Her hand raised to probe lightly at her stinging cheek and pressed a little too hard— maybe the pain would keep her present. Calypso was kneeling on the bed before her, both hands holding onto her shoulders in a vice like grip. It took a moment for Annabeth to take stock of her surroundings. I’m back… I’m on Ogygia. I’m not… Annabeth couldn’t bring herself to finish the thought. Grey eyes finally locked with Calypso’s but the forgotten goddess’ look was guarded, eyes searching her own for an answer to a question that Annabeth must have missed.

“You were thrashing and shouting in your sleep.” Her tone was neutral, still staring, still waiting.

Yes. You were dreaming… no, you were having a vision.

It slipped through her fingers as she attempted to grasp at it, like so many grains of sand on the wind. Something was wrong, she knew it in the way her heart was trying to break from her chest, and the salt of tears drying on her cheeks. Her breathing was shaky. It wasn’t just a bad dream. The things she had seen… Annabeth lifted a hand to brush the sweat soaked curls from her face and behind her ear. They were dark. Camp… camp was being attacked. Reyna was fighting her way towards the home lands… Despite the sweat, Annabeth felt cold and clutched at the blanket of her bed. “I had… it was a nightmare.”

“You were not having a nightmare. You were having a vision, Annie.” Her name sounded sour as it formed on Calypso’s lips. It was wrong, like the time she had tried to bake her father a cake and when she tried to read the ingredients put in too much baking soda. It was all you could taste, even over the sugar and cocoa. Nothing could mask it and as shadows danced across the goddess’ features, eyes boring into Annabeth, the demigod’s gaze focussed her full attention on her hostess. These shadows were normal, they were warm. Not like the other ones, the ones she felt (because it had gone beyond seeing them) from her vision. Fingernails dug into her shoulders harder stealing the breath from her lips.

“You were screaming for Percy.” Calypso added.

The name was a black chasm that spanned between the two of them, only Annabeth hadn’t realized she was grasping at the ledge with a web tangled around her ankle as it threatened to drag her down. For a moment she did nothing but blink, and where the daughter of Athena had not fallen, her gaze did. What could she say? What could she say about anything? That she hadn’t exactly lied but she hadn’t told the truth. That she was desperate and needed Calypso’s help and it would be easier to explain when they were free of the island? When it was too late for her to really say no? Turn her back on her? That she should have been forthcoming and offered her the choice but Annabeth… wasn’t sure that would work and so she was willing to make that choice for Calypso? That she was sorry except… she  wasn’t really sorry? That she would have done the same thing again if it meant helping her friends and saving the one she loved?

Her lips moved but words didn’t come.  

He’s dying. He’s injured, laying in a pool of his own blood and…

Annabeth fell backwards with the force of the smack to her face but soon caught herself and rolled away from the bed and the firelight, her fingers going to her belt where her knife was kept. The godly half of her was wired for combat, buzzing to life as her gaze lifted once more to find Calypso staring at her. It was only then as that ADHD part of her assessed her surroundings she realized her arms were bruised where she had been held, likely there were welts, and that wetness, eyes glanced down for only a second. Yes, Calypso had drawn blood where she’d been holding Annabeth so tight. Although her hostess’ eyes had darkened and Annabeth crouched with her knife in her hand, there was no movement towards her.

“How do you know him?” When she did finally move it was to stand and an aura glowed around her. She might be powered down, less capable than other gods or goddesses, but Annabeth would not underestimate her ability; she could still perform some magic. She didn’t know the extent or limitation of her powers. Before Annabeth could answer, Calypso’s perfectly manicured hands lashed forward and from thin air came tendrils of rope thrashing at her, looking to bind her once more. Annabeth cut them with her knife but the ropes did not stop their pursuit of her, instead both attempting to grab at her and tie her down. She was not nearly so nimble and quick on her feet, ankle still healing from the damage done to it by Arachne and her web, but she ignored the hiss of pain as she threw herself into an acrobatic front flip.

“Who are you and what are you doing here on my island!?” Calypso shouted as she descended upon her. Annabeth fell flat on her face, her ankle unable to hold her weight as it rolled to the side. The ropes took hold of her then, disappearing into the ground as if they were part of it.

“If you do not answer me, I swear, you will live to regret it.” The teenager who had offered her a place in her home was gone, replaced by a goddess who had every right to be suspicious of her. Caramel waves framed her face as she leaned over the trapped demigod.

“Okay, okay. I’ll tell you the truth, I promise. I should have told you everything from the beginning but I honestly didn’t know how, Calypso. I wasn’t sure what you’d think or how you’d feel and I needed your help…”  Annabeth’s words were cut off as the rope dug in tighter. It seemed to spawn additional length from the ground as it wrapped around her middle and tightened, some of the breath being squeezed from her lungs. Where there weren’t any words before, they’re rushing from her now; she hardly needs even a breath as she rushed through all of it.  “Annie is a nickname. I’m Annabeth, a daughter of Athena and Percy Jackson is my boyfriend.”  The words came faster, just as the tears did, and despite herself she struggles against the rope.  “After the first war the gods offered him immortality and he refused it. Instead, he asked for a few things in return— one of them was to free you. There was so much to do after the war in New York: mourning., rebuilding, making new houses for all of the newly claimed children of the gods. That was another one of his conditions, that the gods and goddesses claim all of their children. He didn’t forget about you, Calypso, and when he did it wasn’t his fault. Hera took him without anyone knowing, wiped his memories, and for months I looked for him. He didn’t remember me… he didn’t remember you. Anything. And when he finally had his memories back, there was another prophecy. That’s why I’m here… my friends and I are on a quest.”

Her words are coming choked by the last sentence because the restraints are so tight around her, she’s barely able to inhale. Her wrists have long since gone numb and although her hands are pressed flat to the ground, the ropes are still pulling tighter as if trying to snap her bones or drag her down into the earth itself. Try as she may, she can’t move beyond thrashing her head back and forth or kicking out her legs (which does her no good, if anything, the ropes feel tighter). There’s a moment of silence as Calypso regards her and then they restraints disappear just as they had come.

“How is he?” Calypso might look away as she asks, but her voice is soft around his name, like it’s something precious. Annabeth didn’t move from the floor, too afraid that her legs won’t support her weight. Her mouth opens but where a voice should be there is emptiness. When Calypso turns around she finds Annabeth choking back sobs, her eyes void as her vision washes back over her.






Dark wasn’t quite the right word, it was more like swimming in various shades of ink. Dark implied still but the ebony air played tag with itself, shadows chasing after shadows, some depths so much deeper than others. It set the hairs on the back of her neck (spirit neck?) on end and as she moved through them they reached back for her as if the shades might snatch her and clutch her to them, smother her as they breathed ice down her neck until she crystallized, unable to fight them off. They’d consume her, she knew, if she stayed still for too long. Annabeth would be a forgotten memory, like the souls lost to Hades robes except she might not exist at all… an echo.

Annabeth had pushed on, careful to keep her hands and feet to herself as she slipped around corners, following something though she wasn’t sure what. Below her, far beneath, the screaming continued. It echoed in a way that made it seem like a memory of something that had happened, not something happening right then. Maybe it’s part of the vision… what’s to come? It felt different and she couldn’t quite put her finger on the pulse of it. Everything felt different… wrong, somehow.

What are you trying to show me? She didn’t dare to speak out loud but normally there was some one or some thing for her to see… not endless halls of darkness. The hallway came to an end and there stretched a spiraling staircase. The shrieks bounced on the walls clearly coming from below.

Yes, go towards the screaming, not away. What a great idea. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Annabeth rolled her eyes at herself and taking a breath… took the steps down.

As she rounded the second corner, voices drifted up towards her. They were closer than the shouting and though they echoed on the stone walls toward her straining ears, they were obviously hushed. A shadowy figure came into sight and she hung back, looking as he clung to an equally dark sword. His fingers were nearly translucent and when the next shout echoed he froze momentarily and turned his gaze towards… a winged goddess. Annabeth wasn’t sure how she knew from this vantage point. Perhaps it was the length of her hair, or the tattered remains of her garments, the way her spine stuck out from her back. Her blood ran cold when the goddess turned towards the specter of a boy. Her face erupted into a proboscis where a nose should have been, her mouth soaked with blood, and knotted hair (like seriously it hadn’t seen a wash or a brush in about a century or two) barely concealed bare breasts as she turned to her companion.

“Go… I will distract them.”

“Remember… we have a deal. Once we’re out of here safely you get a one way ticket topside.”

“N-Nico?” The specter of a boy tilted his head, ear in her direction but another bellow came from below and he flew, weightless, around the staircase. The shadows welcomed him with open arms. The goddess gave no indication that she felt the presence of a demigod’s essence and, after a beat, followed after him. The screaming continued and her stomach rolled… that wasn’t an animal. It pierced through her but as it died down from shrill to an almost guttural gurgle she could swear that she knew that sound… not the screams themselves but there was something in the tone of them. Like an instrument she had heard once. The floor might as well have fell out from under her.

Percy.

She was moving as quickly as she could, chasing after the specter. The ghoulish figure with the dark complexion had to be Nico — she pushed aside wondering how he looked that way or why or what it meant. She pushed the snippet of a conversation with the goddess even further. Nico was running towards the screaming, flying like a phantom, his hand on the rail as he practically sailed downwards. He looked dead… but he also looked like he was dissipating. The son of the Underworld was living up to his parentage and from the guise the not quite ghost not quite zombie was osmosing into the ether, losing a physical form. What possible use could he be to Percy?

Maybe he doesn’t intend to be of any use. You heard him, he made a deal and that goddess didn’t exactly look like the tooth fairy.

But at the same time: What is Tartarus doing to them?

This wasn’t what she needed to see. No, she needed to see her boyfriend. She needed to see Percy and know what was happening to him. As her soul chased Nico she wished with all her might to see the son of Poseidon. She’d never attempted to control a dream or a vision or whatever you wanted to call it. It wasn’t something that just anyone could do. As far as she knew, only children of Hypnos or the Oneiroi (Phobetor, Morpheus, Phantasos) could do so with any success or true skill and even then, it was a talent rather than a given. So maybe it was pot luck or maybe it wasn’t so much her own doing as it was the will of the gods or the Fates or whatever, but Annabeth opened her eyes and she was in a room more brightly lit than the staircase. It was a dim light, the flickering dance of firelight, but it burned her eyes like she’d stepped from the night straight into mid day.

After a moment, she winced her eyes back open and took a step to look around. The fire was in one corner of the room with a rusty black cauldron hanging over it and from the acrid stench something was cooking inside it — or maybe more like burning. To the right was a geriatric god standing over a chopping board, a knife in his arthritically gnarled hand. He worked the knife with a deftness that should have been entirely impossible given his curved joints, but they didn’t seem to bother him any. Annabeth had never seen such a sight— sure, gods and goddesses could appear any age but with his knobby knees and the walker resting within arms reach (complete with tennis balls attached to its feet, probably, she presumed, to keep it from scuffing across the stone floors)? He was one of the most ridiculous things she’d ever seen. It was a wonder her managed to stand at all.

“Are you sure you tenderized the meat enough? I think it’s a little tough.” Came a voice from behind his shoulder. There, stood not a foot away was another god. This one was far younger, perhaps in his early twenties. His hair hung stringy and black across his face, handlebar mustache curled upwards with wax scowling as the elderly god worked the meat. Some kind of dubstep crunkcore nonsense blared from an earbud that had clearly fallen out and when he moved he half danced half jigged. They were the most unreal pair she had ever seen. The other god promptly ignored him and went back to flaying the meat.

“If you don’t take a step back the next hunk of meat I tenderize is going to be that flapping tongue.”

Not quite ironic god danced just out of reach. “I don’t get it. He’s not all that big. I mean… maybe in a few years. Maybe if we let him play with some of the monsters from the abandoned wing and fed him really well… I think he’d taste much better then.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Mo.”

The younger god half dub-stepped, half piouretted towards the older god, plucked a piece of the most odd looking raw meat she had seen in her life, and dropped it in his mouth raw. He smacked his lips. “A little too salty for my taste. Could use a wedge of lemon… maybe a little tartar sauce.” He laughed at his own joke, whatever it was. It made Annabeth nauseous, the kind of nausea that comes on the cusp of realization. The soul of a girl drifted closer and despite herself, she hesitated. She shouldn’t have. She should have been braver. She should have steeled herself. She should have already guessed it.

Annabeth’s heart was hammering in her ears. She didn’t dare to ask herself where the screaming had come from or why it had died down. She didn’t dare to ask herself the one thing she should have: where was Percy?

“He’s hurt Lottie! I’ve never seen anything like it… the blood! The gore! Ripped her jaw right off. I swear he’s tied her up and stabbed her more times than a true crime drama! It tasted delicious— I mean it was atrocious!” Wailing came from the stairs, the winged goddess popping her head down with a grimace. “Come quickly!” Annabeth was positive she’d never seen the aged move that quickly unless they were worried about missing the blue plate special but he and the god called Mo were off quick leaving her alone in the room… alone except for the shadows. She turned, slower and with more dread than she’d ever admit. There, somewhere in the shadows, not quite part of them though they hung around him like so many predators waiting for carrion, was Percy laying in a pool of his own blood.

Annabeth no longer had to wonder what sort of meat they were flaying.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 44
The One Where Percy Accidentally Impales His Friend Instead of a Goddess
Percy

 




Of course they were going to eat him. Percy had deduced that when they began arguing about how to spice the stew. Apparently there was a bit of contention about whether or not one of them was allergic to garlic… According to his geriatric guard, his brother (who looked more like he belonged in a mosh pit at some festival where everyone was too cool to actually mosh because it would, like, ruin their outfit and the wax might melt from his totally ironic mustache and that would kill the whole look he was going for) wasn’t but he liked to pretend that he shared some heritage with Dracula who had, for a brief time, resided in the House of Night. That was, of course, before Erebus took offense to his wife housing a consort and banished him. Why they felt the need to share all of this, Percy didn’t know, but then again he supposed that was a trait of old people who were lonely— they just kept yapping.

Percy was a captive audience… literally he couldn’t go anywhere.

He took to banging his head on the wall hoping for Riptide to return to his pocket but when he went feeling for the cool metal of it, there was nothing but lint and a piece of gum whose origin was entirely questionable. “Hey— you! Are you listening?” The cane was shoved between the bars and prodded him between his ribs earning a shout from him as he smacked it away. “No respect for your elders. Honestly, I’m full of stories. You could learn something from me, young man, if you bothered to listen for a moment. I’ll have you know that we are planning a feast fit for a king— well, serving a king. You’re a little on the puny side for me but we must work with what we are given.”

“So did they decide on garlic in the end?” He bit back.

“Why, yes, we did— you’re being sarcastic aren’t you?” Milky eyes squinted at him through the dark, their cataract covered vision still seeming laser sharp as they focussed on him, following Percy with each pace around the cell. The look felt almost curious. Not like he was fluent in reading super elderly gods’ expressions, or anything, but it looked something like constipation and extreme focus so he figured that was about right. And if it wasn’t, well, apparently he was going to be made into stew shortly so it’d probably be one of the last mistakes he’d make in his short life. “I bet you think you’re so clever.”

“I’ve been accused of being a lot of things but clever had never been one of them.” Percy fired back. It took him a moment to realize his snarky comment was more self-insulting than intended to be. Well, it is true. It’s not like you’re exactly the brains of the operation. Percy was self aware enough to know it to be true. Besides, he had other strengths, he told himself. If only one of them was finding a way out of this cell. Making explosives with nothing but rocks, dirt and part of a skeleton. Sorry, dude, I’d totally sacrifice you. The demigod glanced at his long expired cell mate and then back to the other.

“Philotes has gone to find the other demigod.”

A voice announced from down the hallway.

“She’s the worst,” his guard groaned causing the other to laugh. From his cell Percy couldn’t see more than a shadow being cast the length of the dusky hall from the firelight where they were preparing for their meal.

“Yes, well, he’s in for a shock. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get to count him as part of our supper for a few days… I believe she’ll take her time with this one. She seems rather fond of him.” Percy’s stomach shrank about four sizes before turning over on itself. He didn’t want to begin to understand what the goddess was implying but from the way that his guard was turning an unsettling green, it was probably exactly along the line of thought his brain wasn’t willing to take itself.

“I imagine the meat will be far too tainted to consume.”

“Oh you’re no fun, old man. Live a little.”

“Uhm excuse me.” He piped up, tapping his fingers on the metal bars of his cell. The two glanced at him as if he had three heads. Apparently being interrupted by one of their captives was about as common as talking so blasé about what he assumed could only be the torture or rape (or both together) of a minor. Well, sort of eighty year old minor. Or something. The whole age thing when it came to Nico was confusing and frankly, a little unsettling, if you spent too much time focussing on it. “If you’re going to slice me up can we just get to the part where we fight? I’m bored out of my skull.”

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly the best plan. In fact, it wasn’t a plan at all. But what Percy Jackson did know was that waiting around as a prisoner in a cell in the belly of a mansion of night waiting to be eaten was not the way he wanted to go out. After crossing the majority of Tartarus, fighting off empousai, tangoing with a horde of curses tailor made just for him, nearly murdering Misery herself with her own snot and poison, he had had a pretty good run. In fact, it was pretty fucking impressive if he did say so himself. There was no way he was going to sit back and wait for them to get ready for him. No, his chances were better out of the cell no matter how many of them there were. So what if it was a dungeon? So what if he had no idea where he was or where Nico was? That was a larger picture problem and he only had the mind to deal with one issue at a time.

“Tell me, are you so eager to die?” The shadow grew larger and larger until finally the disembodied voice of a goddess stood before him. She made his eyes cross, like each time green eyes attempted to focus on her they slid a little to the right or a little to the left. Her features were beautiful but also nondescript, like the second that his gaze cast away he couldn’t remember exactly what he had just seen beyond the dark robe that she wore with the hood that fell across her eyes. Her hair was long, but he couldn’t have said much about the color, nor the pigment of her skin. But her eyes… her eyes froze something inside of him and he had to look away and she moved closer, still, and if he weren’t half made of mist he was sure the the hairs on the back of his not-quite-zombie neck would be standing on end. Percy’s hand found its way into his pocket hoping for the all too familiar feeling of Riptide in pen form where before he’d felt lint. With the familiar extension of his arm held in his hand, thumb posed on the edge of the cap, the son of Poseidon found his voice (and his spine) once more.

“Sitting in a cell waiting for a bunch of D-List gods and goddesses to make mincemeat out of me? Not exactly the death I was planning on. Call me old fashioned but I was hoping for something a little more challenging and a little less depressing.” The grin on his face felt darker than it should have but if he was going to play a part, may as well commit. No time to worry and think about Nico… the son of Hades could take care of himself.

“I’m going to take my time with you,” the old man flapped as he reached for the keys strung on his belt. Gnarled fingers fumbled with them until he shoved one into the cell and unlocked the door.

It was a narrow hall and they had the advantage but he didn’t wait for them to press forward. The moment that the geriatric god was swinging the door open, he was pulling Riptide from his pocket, popping off the cap and using the forming of the blade to knock the god from his feet, launching himself over with a step on what was probably the god’s spine (there was a definite cry of pain and something popping… he could only imagine the telling off he’d get from his mom if she’d seen him disrespecting the elderly like that). “I don’t think you’ll be doing a whole lot of anything, grandpa.” As he jumped off the back of his fallen captor, Percy used his forward momentum to spring forward towards the cell directly across, bouncing off of it and up the wall to give him a larger arc to swing his sword in the direction of the dark robed goddess.

Apparently those robes were good for something more than being super creepy and a little disturbing— like, trying to look like a Sith lord much?— because she pulled a dark handled blade with a wicked curved edge so white it was nearly blinding in the dark of the dungeon. As gravity finally took hold of Percy, he decided he wouldn’t like to have that pressed anywhere near his throat. Their blades clanked together and she used the curved edge as a means of directing the follow through, throwing his weight to the side, but he’d anticipated it so he used the wall to push back off once more and came at her again, this time slicing through her robes and knocking the flat of her blade with the edge of his, causing it to clatter from her hands.

“I don’t normally recommend bringing a knife to a sword fight.”

“Maybe… but it has its purposes.” She smiled at him and glanced to his side causing him to pause just long enough to look down at his arm. At some point she had nicked him and the mist that had acted as their guise was gone. A bead of blood welled up from the cut and he glanced back up to see the goddess cackle. As hard as he tried to focus on her, to take in her features, to gage where the next threat would come from, it was like holding two of the same magnets near one another: his gaze would slide to the side and he’d forget exactly what she had looked like despite being so close. Percy slashed and swiped at her, but she side stepped, moved backwards, ducked with a speed and grace that was almost dainty… it set his teeth on edge.

“Stop running and fight me!” But the goddess laughed at him again and side stepped yet another swipe. Percy was growing tired; being made of mist he had been weightless and now, with his true physical form once more, he felt too big. It was a little like having lead weights tied around each of his limbs. It made him slower and took more energy. Riptide might as well have gained fifty pounds. The son of the sea was in amazing physical shape— he trained even when he wasn’t at camp because who honestly knew when a monster would show up or the world would be at risk again?— but Tartarus was taking its toll on him. Each time the goddess side stepped his anger flared until he was seeing red. A growl grew in his throat as he moved faster, pushing himself to hit harder and faster, when he heard a noise behind him. Her brother, Percy remembered, although gnarled with age must have finally grabbed his walker and pulled himself to his feet. Percy twirled and stabbed forward, both hands holding firmly to the grip of his sword. The celestial bronze slid through skin as if it were no more than paper.

Percy’s eyes went wide, his hands releasing their grip on the hilt. The tips of his fingers were like ice, numbness coursing its way from his fingers to his arms and up his arms. Geras wasn’t the one with ichor burbling up from his mouth as he clutched at his stomach where Riptide protruded. In fact, the geezer god wasn’t anywhere to be seen. No, green eyes met deep brown ones flecked with hazel and black that looked as stunned as Percy felt. “N-nico?” The name felt foreign on his lips as the sea prince spoke it… it tasted different and the weight wasn’t quite right. Behind him there was laughter but he ignored the grating sound of the goddess’ voice as he took a step forward, his throat constricting. “I didn’t… I didn’t know it was you.” The words did nothing, but he rested his hand on the other boy’s shoulder. It’s the briefest touch of his fingertips and Nico might as well be on unsteady footing because with the touch his knees fall out from beneath him and he landed on the floor.

This isn’t real.

Everything was in slow motion. Percy fell to the floor beside him. His friend’s lips parted and where there should have been words there was a sick wet noise, not quite a gurgling, and dark blood dripped passed lips that struggled to make a sound. Brown eyes fell then to see the sword for the first time, to take in what Percy had done to him. Blood blossomed from the wound and it must have been the shock that did it because Nico’s pale fingers curled around the blade itself and began to tug. The metal must have bit at his palms but Riptide was too awkward an angle for the son of Hades to reach the hilt and work it out of his stomach that way. For a moment Percy does nothing but blink, watching dumbfounded, before he pushes himself to action.

“No— no, Nico. You can’t. You’ll bleed out faster.”

It didn’t take much effort to unwrap Nico’s hand from the blade, and soon his hand is covered in  blood. “We need to get you out of here, okay? The river! If we can get you to the river and you drink everything will be fine. We can get you out of here, okay?”

Laughter had never been so dark or wet before, but there’s a rasping in the other’s chest as Nico laughed. His eyes met Percy’s and the son of Poseidon stilled. “You have to know that’s too far.” The words are more whispered than spoken. The gaze burned him, razor sharp, it saw through Percy. That look… he’d seen it before. Nico had been much younger then and Percy had returned without the one person the boy needed the most. Invisible fingers closed around his windpipe and Percy struggled to bring in a breath as he kneeled floundering like a fish out of water near the other.  

No. No, this isn’t possible. This can’t be real.

“I’m so sorry, Nico.”

“Just like you were sorry about Bianca?”

The name cuts deeply and it was Percy’s turn to gape at the other. “Nico—”

“For a hero, you sure get a lot of people killed.” Nico laughed again, but it cut off into the sort of choking that meant he had to spit (it was more blood than saliva). The weight was too much then. Percy was a marionette and his strings were cut as he dropped next to Nico his hand hovering just above touching the other demigod. “You won’t have to feel guilty about forgetting about me ever again.”

“I never wanted that! Nico, I wanted to be your friend. You were the one who always left me.”

“You never gave me a reason to stay.”

Tears blurred Percy’s vision and his chest heaved as his fingers stroked along the other boy’s arm. It wasn’t untrue. When had he ever given him anything concrete? Anything worth holding onto? Oh, sure, it hadn’t been his intention but what did that matter? Percy couldn’t fill his lungs no matter how hard he tried. “I’m… I’m so sorry.” Their surroundings were lost to him until the goddess cackled. “I want to give you a r—.”

“You are a fool, Percy Jackson.” The goddess chuckled over his shoulder.

Nico cackled, joining her as blood poured faster from his middle and his mouth. When he blinks the vision of his friend disappeared and Geras appeared before him with a mallet in his gnarled hand. Riptide was on the floor, harmless, and Nico was never there. It had always been a trick. A tear trickled down his cheek and despite the trouble he’s in, Percy was a certain kind of relieved and his thought as the mallet connected with his skull and everything went black was: Nico's safe...

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates

Chapter 45

By Now We’ve Lost Track of How Many Times We’ve Almost Died (Most of Them are in Tartarus)

Percy

 


 

Honestly, Percy should have known that it was a trick. He might not be the most clever demigod out of the lot but he was smart enough to know that creepy robe wearing bottom dwellers probably dabbled in tricking you into believing things that weren’t really true and when they welded really ornate looking knives they were probably pretty likely to be doing some kind of voodoo blood magic. It wasn’t exactly the first time that a god or a goddess had made him see something other than was really there and, sadly, it was super unlikely it would be the last. Someday he would learn better… but that day wasn’t it. Instead, it was another day where there was a pounding at the back of his skull. It wasn’t enough to pull him from his stupor. Percy could lay there, wherever he was, for a little while longer. He had earned rest, even if it was the demigod-totally-concussed-from-a-fight-gone-wrong type. Hey— when in Tartarus one could hardly be picky about those types of things. So it wasn’t the throbbing from the egg that was growing on his skull that woke him. No, it was the feel of a knife slicing through the muscles of his back like he was butter melting beneath a warm blade.

 

Percy’s eyes flew open but they saw nothing other than spots swimming and some blurry iteration of the room but they couldn’t focus— not opening so quickly and with the wildfire that was blossoming from his shoulder down his arm and up his neck. His body tried to throw itself in the opposite direction and he struggled against the hands that held him down as they cut further, taking another chunk. It wasn’t just screaming until his throat was raw. Percy practically foamed at the mouth, and shrieked until he bit through part of his cheek or his tongue and blood dripped from his mouth. When they cut into his upper left arm his stomach heaved. What he had pleaded or promised through tears and his own bile he couldn’t have recalled but he might have sold his mother to make it stop and he would not have been any the wiser. The meaning of words had been lost to him.

 

Eventually, the son of Poseidon passed out once again. Just as the pain had woken him, it eventually pulled him back under to some place inside of him dark and unpopulated where he lay silently tasting the bile that had risen in his mouth and vaguely wondered when he had thrown up on himself again? The first time he remembered but there was a second time and… oh who knew. It was dark and not quite comfortable but it was far away and it had been safe. Things happened around him and to him but even though his brain buzzed with the hyper ability of any demigod, Percy couldn’t quite snap it into focus to make any sense of what happened. There was someone who would be able to make sense of it… sunshine. She was like sunshine and the place he stayed was dark…

 

Shouting. It’s the first thing that breaks through the the foggy dark thing wrapped around his mind. When he lolled his head to the side, green eyes tried to look but even the small movement sent fireworks dancing in front of his eyes. Pain shot down his spine and he groaned again, or he thought he groaned, but maybe he whimpered. It was a pathetic sound, whatever it was. The shouting is followed by commotion. The one with the hitting thing growled in frustration and took off up the stairs with his walker. The other god followed behind him leaving Percy alone. There was a knife on the chopping block, part of him recognized, but the few feet felt like miles.

 

I’m injured. He thought as he took stock of himself.

 

“Percy.”

 

That’s my name. It wasn’t clear if he had thought it or if someone had said it. Probably the first. He was alone. He killed his only friend. He was injured. There was no one.

 

“Percy… I need you to look at me.”

 

The second time the son of Poseidon was sure it was a voice. A familiar one. He cracked an eye open and then the other because at some point he had closed them. Maybe when the explosion of pain had made him feel sick again… for a brief second he wonders if the goddess is tricking him again when jade eyes land on the dark figure before him. “Nico,” he murmured and the two syllables were the sweetest thing he’d ever tasted in his mouth. It could have been false, a promise of hope that he had not deserved, but the feel of cold fingers against his skin was too gentle to be anything but real. The other boy helped him to sit up and pain blossomed in the all consuming way that choked him as bile rose in his throat. The noise that Nico made wasn’t one Percy had heard before so he wasn’t sure what it meant. Very possibly disgust as Percy’s body attempted to throw up but was left with nothing but bile he spit on the floor.

 

“Hades fucking helm, Percy,” the boy mumbled close enough to his ear that the demigod could feel the tickle of his breath against his neck. “I know it hurts and it’s not fair of me but I need you to trust me.”

 

“Always.” He croaked without thought.

 

It might have been his imagination but Percy thought those dark brown eyes hesitated for a moment. The look passed as quickly as it came and Nico nodded and slipped his arms around Percy careful of his damaged arm and shoulder. “I’m not going to lie to you, Percy. It’s bad. But you’re going to get up and we’re going to get out of here. We’ve had a lot of fucking bad in our lives, haven’t we?”

 

“I can’t feel my arm, Nico.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I can’t… I can’t look at it. How bad is it?”

 

“We’ll get you to the river.”

 

Percy wasn’t positive but from the way Nico skated around a direct answer and how his eyes glanced at it and then back once more, he didn’t push. Maybe right then wasn’t the best time. They were sort of in a dungeon surrounded by gods and goddesses who weren’t above picking the flesh from their bones. The son of Hades tightened his hold on Percy and sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s get you on your feet, okay?” Percy pulled his knees to his chest, feet flat on the floor and as Nico made to stand he pushed himself up as well. The movement sent the world topsy-turvy and he staggered forward and then backwards but the son of Hades arms were tight around him. How he managed being a pseudo zombie made of mist would have been a question for the slightly less concussed and traumatized. “That’s great… you’re doing great, Percy.” The voice is nearby but it sounded far away as the world went black at the edges. His arm felt wet and sort of itched but it didn’t move when he thought about trying to.

 

“I can’t move my arm.”

 

“Don’t worry about that right n—”

 

“You! Where do you think you’re taking our meal? We’ve hardly begun to cut the best meats.” There was a crash as Geras half fell down the stairs. His walker was missing one of the tennis balls on its feet, another leg was broken, his bread smoked where it had been singed, and he wore a black eye that quickly was becoming concerning with the amount of swelling. Ichor trickled from one of his nostrils and he looked like he’d fallen head over heels down the stairs, or else been smashed into them a few times and when he spoke he was missing a front tooth.

 

“Hold onto me as tight as you can.” Nico commanded. “Whatever you do, don’t let go.” Percy watched as Geras moved with a suspicious amount of speed. He threw the walker to the side and one gnarled hand wrapped itself around Nico’s upper arm. The second that he did, the mist that made up Nico began to track towards him. The god’s eyes glowed amber as whatever he did willed the mist that made up Nico towards him. The son of Hades cried out and Percy, who struggled to stand and canted one way and the other because he was so unsteady on his feet did the only thing that made sense right then. He brought his foot down as hard as he could burying the heel hard into the top of the geezer’s until he felt something snap.

 

“Aaaahhhhh! My foot! You—” there were a number of choice words and phrases that would have made the Olympians blush, including Aphrodite.

 

“Nico,” he whispered knowing that although the world around him was swimming they didn’t have long. With all the strength he had in his good arm, he clung to the other. “We need to go.” Nico gritted his teeth and nodded, shadows pooled around them, drew nearer and nearer and they disappeared into them.

 

It was not shadow travel. The other had spoken about it before that shadow travel was like making his way through them but they were weightless.  The teenager didn’t have words for what it was, but that could have been the pain gnawing at his brain… or the blood loss. Or just the whole fucking Tartarus experience finally catching up to him. Basically just anything or everything. When they snapped back into reality— and it was a lot like a rubber band snapping because one moment they were physically darkness itself and the next they were winking back into the present— Nico turned to face him with a creased brow. The death mist had slipped away but his skin was still a grayish green. Wherever they were, it was clear that Nico couldn’t take them any further. They’d have to do it the old fashioned way— on foot.

 

“I… it’s this way.” Nico panted and pointed a finger before them. “There’s a river up ahead… it cuts through Nyx’s mansion near the edge.” Each word sounded like it weighed of lead against his tongue as he tried to get the last of his message out.

 

Percy opened his mouth to ask how Nico could be positive when the other demigod began to sway. He didn’t respond when the sea prince asked if he was okay. The tight grip of Nico’s arms around Percy loosened and with a whoosh of air exhaled from Nico’s lungs the boy dropped to his knees. He fought it from the way his eyelids kept drooping only to attempt to open again. For a moment, Percy stood frozen. The vision with Apate, the boy before him pale and staring up at him with half empty eyes sent a shiver down his spine. His fingers found Riptide in his pocket and assured himself he hadn’t stabbed his friend— t here’s no blood. He had never cut him down with his sword. It was all a trick. He reminded himself. Percy, finally with life back in his limbs, moved to brush the fingers of his uninjured hand along the boy’s shoulder when Nico’s eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he fell to the floor. Whatever Geras had done to him hadn’t looked entirely harmless and now the child of Hades was unconscious on the floor.

 

Somewhere behind them he could hear voices. Percy swore under his breath, head swimming but not in the good sort of way. No. He saw spots dancing around and the floor was unsteady under his feet without Nico to help hold him up. It was probably the blood loss but then again it was Tartarus, he’d been made of death mist, barely eaten, not really slept so honestly who could say it was any one thing? He sucked in a deep breath and began to lean down to give the other boy’s shoulder a nudge but it sends his head spinning and he begins to lose balance. Apparently blood loss and trauma and leaning over added together equaled his stomach trying to escape through his mouth again. After he spat on the floor, Percy gritted his teeth and used his good arm and called upon whatever strength he might have stored deep down inside of him in those wells a demigod reserved for when he couldn’t fucking go on another step but the world needed him to and through the mist draped boy over his shoulder. The pain makes him howl despite himself but the injured one is the only choice so he can hold onto him with the good one. A tear squeezed out.

 

Nico practically weighed of nothing— he had always been small but after his time in Tartarus and then the jar he’d been skeletal, no pun intended— he would have failed after the first step.  There may as well have been lava working its way down his spine and eating through his insides; Percy didn’t even try to hide the hiss of pain that left him as he took one wobbly step forward after another. One. Two. Three. Four.

 

He had only taken a few steps when he began to feel Nico trembling against him. For a split second a grin begins to form on his lips because surely this is the other boy coming around and he can put him down but the stronger the shaking grows he realized it was no muscle twitching to consciousness but the ghost king convulsing. A noise came from him that didn’t quite sound like choking but also didn’t not sound like choking. “Hold on, Nico. Hold on. I have you.”

 

And there it was. That well of energy. The reserve inside of him to pull from when he literally had nothing left to give and yet had to keep going. The son of Poseidon ran like he never ran before. He ran through the darkness in the direction the other had pointed to and hoped beyond hope that there wasn’t any additional directions he should have known about or, gods forbid, any gods forsaken traps. The shadows pushed in around him thicker and thicker until there was nothing to see because they were entirely encased in the darkness once more but Percy felt it then. There was water up ahead. There was a river cutting deep through the mansion of night and the son of Poseidon knew how far away it was. He held tighter to Nico as he pushed his legs to their limit. Just knowing water was so close made him feel stronger and he gained speed. Percy vaulted across the chasm and it felt like he was flying.

 

But gravity in Tartarus was even worse than it was up top. Although he landed on his feet the uneven weight distribution had him landing on his ankle the wrong way and just like that Percy Jackson went from gracefully vaulting to sprawling. Nico was thrown from his shoulder and rolled down the incline. Percy grunted and chased after him down the hill and into the reddish aether of Tartarus; it felt like mid afternoon compared to the dreary interior of the house of night. Percy’s shoulder throbbed and his vision probably wasn’t supposed to tilt. There’s bits of Tartarus dirt in his mouth and as he spits it out he honestly doesn’t even want to think about the fact he has Tartarus himself in his mouth because he honestly can’t take retching again. And anyone might have heard  him, anyone might have found them but he couldn’t help the sound (frustration, anguish, despair, fury) that ripped passed his lips.

 

“Why can’t you just give us a fucking break!?” If anyone asked him, Percy couldn’t have said who he was angry with. The Gods for their ridiculous feuds and the wars it meant their children had to fight. The Fates who wove so many horrific things into his lifeline. Their friends because they were relying on the two of them making it out alive so they could pick up where they left off and finish the quest. It could have been the freaking world that would never know what they had done or what they had scarified (or how much of themselves they had lost and left behind in the pit) to protect it.

 

Percy crawled over to the son of Hades. His features were soft again, the mist had abandoned him fully and the boy was as pale as the night was dark. As he checks him over for any visible wounds, he notices Nico’s dark lashes fanned out across his cheeks and he looked almost peaceful. If he hadn’t known any better, Percy might have thought he was simply asleep. The corners of his lips aren’t curved down in the automatic skepticism that is natural, nor are his lips pressed into a thin and pensive line. This is what he should have looked like if you’d never showed up, Percy chastised himself. A regular boy. A regular teenager. He’d smile and take a girl to prom and he’s clever, I bet he’d be first in his class. And finally, he’d have a sister. Percy’s head hung down and knots formed in his stomach.

 

But they weren’t regular teenagers. They didn’t have time.

 

“Nico… Nico, I need you to get up. I can’t carry you… My arm’s in a pretty bad way, death breath. And I think I rolled my ankle pretty good.” The sound of his voice is more child than hero. As he spoke, his fingers brushed along the other boy’s cheek as he tucked long hair out of his face and behind his ear. Nico didn’t stir. “— So, you know, anything you can do to help? I mean if you can just sort of pitch in so I can get you to the Phlegm-a-thon or whatever I’ll totally take it from there, okay?”

 

There was no movement. In Percy’s desperation, though, he convinced himself that Nico’s eye twitched and that must have been some weak sign of agreement. “Okay. We’re doing this.” Percy pushed himself up from the ground and settled on his scuffed knees and yammered to himself all the while. The silence from Nico had not dissuaded him. The injured arm was limp and useless — whatever flesh they’d cut away to carve out his muscles had obviously been important or connected to something important. Still, he had one good arm! And, he was strong. Zeus’ thunderbolt, he’d held the weight of the sky on his shoulders. He’d saved the world at least once, helped some Egyptians another time. He was Perseus freaking Jackson, the son of the Earthshaker who himself had brought some pretty epic freaking storms. This was just one more thing to look back on and add to that list. With his jaw set, fingers wrapped around Nico’s hand and wrist.

 

“One… two… three!” He yanked his companion forward, dragging the body and it was far lighter than it should have been. Nico appeared even longer, leaner, and as his shirt caught on the rubble on the ground it tugged upwards revealing the dangerous jut of his hipbones and maybe just a rib or two at the bottom of his ribcage. Percy didn’t want to think about how concave the other’s stomach was. He looked older. Percy yanked again, favoring the uninjured ankle as best he could. They made no more than twenty or so feet before the son of the sea’s ankle protested for the final time and buckled under him. So what did he do? Get back up and try again. And again. Each time he went down, he forced himself back up (he never let go of Nico).

 

The injured arm hung limp and red with his own blood. Each beat of his heart pulsed in his shoulder and his stomach clenched. If there had been anything left, he might have thrown up. Instead he half coughed, half retched from the pain. When had his vision gone hazy? The boy blinked and realized he wasn’t actually retching. Instead, he had begun to sob, snot dripped down his face and tears streaked down his cheeks.

 

“I won’t leave you.” He choked. Green eyes canvassed the surrounding terrain. There were massive pustules ready to birth any number of monsters (all sizes and shapes) not all that far in the distance. They pulsed and he swore he could see the things inside of them move. When Percy patted his pocket, Riptide hadn’t reappeared there yet. “Okay.” He hissed under his breath. There was a number of large rocks and if he could just get Nico there, it would cover them from one direction and Percy could keep watch on the rest. He was dripping sweat and the tears had not let up when they reached the outcrop. He did his best to make Nico comfortable and with a little more effort he managed to shift Nico and pulled the other boy’s sword from its rest and laid it across his lap as he perched at the boy’s side.

 

His fingers brushed through Nico’s curls as his eyes closed and he revealed in the feeling. Sure, they both needed a wash, but his ringlets were soft and tickled his fingers. Percy reveled in the feeling. When he opened stormy eyes, he allowed wandering fingers to brush down the son of Hades’ cheek. His skin was soft but there along his jaw — Nico would need to learn to shave. He hadn’t had the beginning of a five o’clock shadow when they had fallen in Tartarus. He would need to learn to shave. Who will show him? Paul taught me.

 

“I’ve got you.” Percy set his jaw and picked up the Stygian Iron sword from where it had rest in his lap.

 

“I’m not leaving you behind ever again. I’ll keep you safe.”



Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 46
The Only Problems Leo Likes to Solve are Mechanical (Not Emotional)
Leo

 




The ice bomb did a lot more than throw Annabeth from the Argos II. And a lot more included: decimating the ship’s mast and tearing through its sales along with other structural and mechanical damage, cracked the rift that was rapidly growing between Jason and Piper even wider which then impacted on the rest of the crew, and blew them halfway across the world. As if the group hadn’t lost enough time, they were now stuck somewhere over Africa in the court of the South Wind. Leo wasn’t one to judge or anything but the guy was totally nuts. His court went back and forth between being the stark bone dry summer heat that had the fire maker’s shirt sticking to his back and hair matted to his head, to the thick cool fog of thunderous storms bringing relief from the heat and humidity. Unfortunately the whole dealing with fire and forges and pyrokinesis thing didn’t actually mean that he was immune from sweating when it was stifling outside so Leo knew which one he preferred.

Jason was as broody as ever, waiting to seek audience with the god of the South Wind. Apparently there was some sort of decision that the guy had to make and it wasn’t like the son of Hephaestus wasn’t sympathetic or anything but he had much more pressing things on his mind. Like the fact that he had next to no supplies and his magic toolbelt kept overheating. Apparently one could attempt to conjure up too many parts too quickly, especially the more complex and larger ones. Poor Festus needed a whole lot of work but the big guy was going to have to wait until the ship itself was in working order.

Leo swore under his breath as the toolbelt overheated once more; he dropped the wrench in his hand and sprawled out on the floor with his eyes closed. His brown hair was shaggier than normal and stuck up in every single direction from sweat and pushing it repeatedly out of his face. Honestly, he was pretty sure he stank of oil and coolant and he’d lost track of time again so who could say how long it had been since he’d bothered to shower. Turning his head a little he sniffed towards his armpit and, Oh gods, that’s honestly disgusting. Leo, buddy, you need to check your hygiene.

Brown eyes spotted the sandaled feet before he heard the gentle knock on the ship to alert him to her presence. “Are you all right down there?” Piper’s voice was soft and not just in the quiet way. There was something going on with her lately, and not just the broken up with Jason sort of thing. Whatever had happened between them, he was determined to stay out of it. Both the child of Aphrodite and Jupiter were his friends… but Leo was also human and he would have been lying to himself to not recognize that he honestly felt worse for Piper. Something was massively wrong with her charmspeak and rather than trying to fix it, everyone kept chastising her for it. As someone with a power that was fatal if left unchecked, Leo had been there. Sort of. Of course it was different but the sadness that hung around her shoulders like a weight was one he’d worn himself.

“Yeah… just taking a break.”

Piper squatted down until she was practically on the floor and her kaleidoscope eyes met his as she peeked underneath the ship at him. “Do you normally take breaks by sprawling out on the hard floor.”

“Not as often as you’d think. It’s not so bad under here.”

Piper, never one not to check things out for herself, was soon crawling under the ship to join him. She laid with her shoulder touching his and Leo felt like maybe there was a little less air than there was before. Part of him felt like he should apologize, another part like he should shuffle over a bit and give her some space. Then again, there was a third part of him that was like hey, you know what, she’s the one who joined you down here and she’d move over if she wasn’t comfortable. So in the end? He didn’t move at all. Not quite sure what to do with his hands, he folded them over his stomach.

Turning his head, he met her eyes. Apparently Piper had already turned to look at him.

“It’s less…” she searched for the word, “stimulating under here. And don’t go getting all gross on me.” The corners of her mouth tugged up into a smile but it wasn’t the kind that reached her eyes.

“Hey— you’re the one who said it, not me.” Leo flashed his impish grin back at her. Piper was still hurting after Jason and he couldn’t blame her. When the bomb had gone off, when Annabeth had jumped in front of it, there had been mayhem. There hadn’t been time to think when they were attacked and the ship itself was sent spiraling off course. Frank was below and had been both unaware and relatively safe. For Leo, Jason, Piper and Hazel it had been tumultuous with each of them attempting to grab on to absolutely anything to keep them from being thrown from the ship as they were thrown off course. From the way her multicolored eyes had moved to stare up at the ship-acting-as-ceiling above them and Leo’s handiwork, he knew the events after were still playing out on her mind.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

Okay then.

“I didn’t mean for her to…”

“I know, Beauty Queen. You don’t have to tell me. I’m the last person you have to explain yourself to, okay?” Serious talks weren’t exactly Leo Valdez’s specialty. No, he was the jester extrordiare. The insanely-handsome-if-somewhat-underdeveloped-for-his-age son of Hephaestus who cracked jokes quicker than people realized they needed a pick me up. Comic relief, that was him. The whole heart to heart thing… emotions and analyzing what people were feeling set the hairs on the back of his neck on edge. Feelings weren’t like machines or magic or things he could dissect and work to understand because they weren’t logical or even magical.

“Don’t let me stop you from whatever you’re working on. Maybe I could help out?”

Even though Leo wasn’t looking at her any longer, he could feel her gaze on him. If he didn’t mean it, she would know, and she would leave. The daughter of Aphrodite needed something to do to feel useful— she probably assumed in the eyes of the rest of their companions but truthfully, mostly in her own.

Leo wiped his hands on the front of his coveralls. “You know what? That’d be great.”

He could practically feel the way she beamed at him. “Thank you.”

“Why are you thanking me, McLean? I’m going to put you to work. You’re going to rue the day you ever asked Leo Valdez if you could give a helping hand.” Leo pushed himself out from under the ship and was followed closely by the other demigod.

It was risky but he figured that the toolbelt had had long enough to cool off. He reached down into it and pulled out a pair of spare coveralls and handed them to Piper. She crinkled her nose at them and looked back up. Now, the daughter of love wasn’t exactly the type to put a lot of stock in her looks but apparently she drew the line at hideously unflattering work pants. “What? You thought by help I meant you wouldn’t be getting your hands dirty?”

Her face broke into a grin.

A few hours later her hair was plastered to her forehead and she wiped the back of a hand across trying to rid a few stray pieces of hair from where they stuck (she had blown on them first but it was unsuccessful). When they didn’t work she tried to pluck them with her fingers as cautious as possible but she wound up smudging oil and grime across her russet tanned skin.

“You’ve got a little—” Leo motioned to her face as he took a seat next to her. They’d earned a break. Normally he’d keep on but her muscles weren’t accustomed to the often awkward positions; apparently it was a Hephaestus kid thing to totally tune out any of that and keep on until one had finished their workpiece. Piper scrunched up her nose and went cross-eye attempting to see what the fire starter had motioned to… when she wiped it made it worse.

“I would say it looks like you’re wearing war paint but I’m pretty sure that’s not what it’s supposed to look like.” Leo snickered and then grabbed a towel from his tool belt. He held it up before her and Piper nodded. Suddenly his palms sweat and he wasn’t sure why he was afraid to breath or why his hands were shaking but he brought the towel to wipe her face free of the streaks and grime. Strictly speaking, his hand might have lingered a little longer than entirely necessary but his brown eyes were caught up in the swirling greens and browns and blues of her eyes.

It wasn’t until Piper lifted her own hand and wrapped it around his wrist that Leo snapped out of it. He was about to say something, mouth dropped open, but she beat him to it.

“Do you ever wonder why us?”

“Why us, what?”

“Why you and me… I mean, out of anyone why did Hera pick us?

“I’m not really all that philosophical.”

“No, I mean like…” she paused to lick her lips, a crease formed in her brow. Whatever she was trying to say she wanted the words to be right. “It can’t be a coincidence that you and I ended up at the Wilderness School.”

By then, Leo had dropped his hand but Piper hadn’t released her hold on his wrist. He swallowed hard but by then he’d dropped her gaze and was looking at the rag he held in his lap, turning it in his hands. He always fidgeted. It was totally normal. Not out of the ordinary. No, the conversation wasn’t going anywhere potentially uncomfortable.

“I ran away from my foster homes seven times… eventually they were going to send me somewhere I couldn’t run away from. As for you and charmspeaking a BMW salesman, I mean that’s awesome and everything, but the mortals were eventually going to say enough is enough even for a juvenile.”

“I know,” she sighed. “But don’t you think it’s weird? Hera could have chosen anyone. She could have stuck Jason with anyone in Camp Halfblood and they wouldn’t have known any different.”

“Maybe it was too much effort?”

“I think it’s more than that. I mean… Jason can remember before. You and I know that these things were manipulated,” she motioned in a circular motion towards her head indicating how Hera had screwed with their memories. “But it’s just…”

“We already knew each other, Piper. We were already close. It made it easy.”

Piper’s eyes scrunched in concentration and the grip on his wrist tightened. She was clearly about to ask Leo if he really remembered everything from before and he wasn’t sure he could answer that question without making things even more screwed up than they were. She was heart broken over Jason, after all. And things were seriously poor timing. So maybe it was his father or the Fates or something intervening on his behalf, but Hazel popped up.

“Leo— oh, hey, Piper. I didn’t expect to see you here.” Gold eyes softened. The others might have been angry or frustrated with Piper but Hazel clearly pitied everything the daughter of Aphrodite was having to endure.

Leo pulled his arm free from Piper’s grip and stood up. A blush creeped its way from the back of his neck up to his cheeks. “What’s up?”

“Auster has agreed to help us. I was just coming to see how things were coming with the ship?”

“It’s mostly fixed. There are a few minor issues but it’ll hold together.” He hadn’t had much luck with Festus but they were on a tight deadline and there was no reason he couldn’t keep working on the technical dragon as they made their way. Besides, there were some innards he could tinker with in his workshop before installing them back. The rest of the ship was (mostly) good to go.

“Fantastic! We’ll be leaving soon then. I’m going to go let Frank know.”

Piper stood up and moved to follow after Hazel. She paused in her tracks and Leo could practically feel her wrestling with saying something else. Finally, she turned around, one of her braids bouncing against her shoulder. “Do you think she’s okay? Annabeth— I mean— do you think we’ll find her?”

“Yes.” Leo said with a conviction he hadn’t known he felt until that moment. The rag in his hands was tossed onto his shoulder.

Piper shot him a smile before she turned and left Leo alone with his thoughts.

 

 

Later, it wasn’t Leo that anyone thanked for the repairs he managed on  The Argos II that kept the  ship together, or for the adaptations he’d made to the engine so it could be turbo powered by the wind spirits Jason had to keep reigned in. Not that it wasn’t impressive keeping control of the wind spirits but it sort of figured. Frank and Hazel gushed about how great the other teen had done (Coach Hedge, on the other hand, felt he could have done better and gotten them there in half the time if he’d given the wind spirits a kick up the backside).

Piper stood next to Leo but her gaze never left Jason. He sighed and turned his attention back to the horizon. As they arrived at their destination, Leo was glad as much for Piper’s sake as he was for Annabeth’s, that he spotted the familiar head of blonde hair sat on the dock waiting for them.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 47
Percy Jackson Sees Nico di Angelo for the Very First Time
Percy




At some point, Percy’s eyes had closed and they must have stayed that way.

“If you keep sitting there someone or some thing might decide you look tasty enough to eat. You already smell delicious. A little on the, shall we say, fragrant side but Tartarus is hardly is known for  its hygiene.”

Percy’s head had shot up. At some point he had been on the cusp of being aware that he was nearly blacking out (blood loss, exhaustion, trauma, you name it) but there hadn’t been a whole lot he could do about it. Not with an unconscious Nico who wasn’t going to move any time soon. Percy was a pretty shitty protector if he went and died on Nico. It took skill but Percy planted his feet on the ground with knees to his chest and shoved himself up without the use of his hands. One was basically a gruesome decoration for all the good it would do him and the other was occupied with the foreign stygian blade.

“Why don’t you come and try a bite?” The sword was lighter than Riptide and longer but it felt good in his hand. Percy gave it a few swings around getting a feel for the way it cut through Tartarus’ thick air; all the while he stared down the goddess.

“Oh, I’d love to. Believe me… you’re delicious. You left a bit of you behind, of course, when you fled. It seemed a waste to leave it so you know,” the bug faced goddess shrugged as a shiver of delight rippled up her spine and shook her gossamer wings. “Demigod doesn’t keep very long, you see.” With each word, she moved closer and around to the side where Nico lay. Percy tracked as best he could, each time he put weight on his more tender ankle he struggled and he didn’t want to trip over the unconscious boy. “Unfortunately for me I’m afraid I can’t harm a hair on that very pretty head of yours.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that one before.” Percy scoffed.

She looked shady and not just because she’s one of Nyx’s children but honestly because she looks like a mosquito and a god had babies and so far as he’s aware? There’s no mythology for that. Yeah, sometimes they turned into cows or bulls and apparently procreated with women and some really messed up beastiality type stuff he’d really prefer to banish from all thought but mosquitos? Bugs? That was beyond gross. Anyway… she was super demonic looking and being half naked with her chest showing through some very questionably laundered garments (or what used to be garments) left the son of the sea wondering when the last time she’d found time to bathe herself.

“And if I don’t believe you?”

“You’re really in no position not to.”

With Percy’s next step, his ankle buckled and he landed on his scraped knee but still he managed to put his body between freaky bug goddess and Nico.

“Your friend is close to death, as are you, though he is much nearer. And let’s just say it’s in my interest that you live, Percy Jackson.”

It was the hardest tread downhill Percy had ever made and he’d scaled some seriously questionable landscapes. Even with the creepy winged goddess carrying Nico in her arms (between Percy’s bum shoulder and useless arm, oh and his rolled ankle quickly swelling thrice its normal size) Percy took to using the Stygian blade more as a walking stick than as a sword. He’d have to apologize to Nico for that later but honestly, he was pretty sure the guy would give him a break. Percy was torn between keeping the goddess in front of him to keep an eye on her to trying to keep pace beside her in case that proboscis thing thought about having a little taste of Nico. In the end he settled for following because honestly if she made up her mind to take off he seriously doubted his ability to catch up at this rate, no matter how badly he wanted to save Nico.

There was a quaking behind him, rubble hitting the back of his ankles. Percy grips the sword harder and attempts to turn around.

“Friends!”

“Bob!?” Percy’s knees threatened to turn to jello at the sound of the Titan’s voice. The Titan’s silver hair bounced as he bounded across the landscape until he was close enough to reach out and pick Percy up in a crushing hug against his coveralled chest.

“You made it! I was afraid Nyx might have made you stew! Or Lottie— she is worse.”

The tiny demon kitten— Small Bob— raised its back and spat.

“I hate friendship,” bug goddess agreed.

“Nyx tried,” Percy wheezed as his vision began to go dark once more. Percy’s stomach clawed its way back up his throat and settled at the back of his mouth. “Hey, big guy… I need air…” he sputtered.

Bob loosened his grip but did not set him down. “Oh Ker, hello! Percy, you have made more friends.” The Titan sounds proud of the progress the two have made despite a very unconscious Nico still resting in the goddess’ arms.

“Iapetus, imagine seeing you heard. I heard you had a, shall we say, change in occupation after a mishap around the Lethe?”

“Oh yes! Little prince helped me with it. I’ve been employee of the month six times. I have plaques to hang on the wall of my room!” He boasted proudly. Percy had to admit that was, actually, pretty impressive. What he knew of Hades, personally, the guy wasn’t one to go around giving praise. He was generally overly serious and a bit of a downer, really.

The goddess didn’t even laugh. In fact, she might have looked impressed, or as impressed as a mosquito faced she-devil could. Bob went to put Percy down but the demigod held on. “Uh, actually, can I stay up here? You know… just until I catch my breath.” He was pretty certain that the Titan lifted a silver eyebrow in skepticism but he didn’t bother putting him down. So what? If a guy couldn’t use a friend to give him a lift then what was the actual point? Percy decided he was probably half delusional by that point.

He wasn’t sure how long it took but he could feel strength beginning to return to him as they neared the water. Eventually he tapped Bob to put him down and he walked beside the two immortals. Once they were on the bank, he paused.

Percy held out his good arm. “Give him to me.” The mosquito faced goddess regarded him for a moment, her proboscis quivered, before she lowered the demigod into a standing position. Percy wrapped his good arm around the pale teenager and held him close, the back of Nico’s head rested against his shoulder, neck supported in the crook of his armpit as he lowered them both (a little precariously) to the ground. Without so much as a glance, he felt that familiar tug inside of him as he called to the water and it responded, pulled from the river in a winding stream through the air towards him. Dark brown curls were fanned out against his shoulder as the son of Poseidon kept Nico rested in the crook between his arm and body, freeing his only functional hand. It was awkward as he attempted to part the other boy’s lips with his hand but he managed it. The blood like water passed at his command into the demigod’s mouth.  Percy never moved his hand back to Nico’s side. Instead, his fingers found a home in his hair where they brushed softly across his forehead and crown.

“Drink, Nico,” he whispered to the other and as if he had heard him or understood him, Nico’s adam’s apple bobbed. It was slow but color returned to his face, the sick grayish hue replaced. Even the smattering of freckles across the other boy’s nose and cheeks appeared brighter (he’d never noticed those before). “I have you,” he whispered as he leaned over the other. Every so often he paused, giving the other a chance to come around or breathe before trying to feed him the water once more. Nico didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t stir. The longer it took the tighter Percy’s throat grew and his gentle murmurs became more frantic.  

“Wake up, Nico… you need to wake up.”

Percy didn’t understand why he didn’t wake up even after the color returned to his cheeks. Whatever remnants of the mist had long since disappeared and there were a few silver strands tussled in with the deep brown of the rest of his locks. His features looked sharper, more angular, the last sign of baby fat around his features gone. Hadn’t they been there just the day before? Time was so different down in Tartarus. It could have been a handful of days or a year. Percy wouldn’t have known either way. His fingers brushed a few strands from Nico’s face and his shoulders froze when the other’s chest stilled. “Nico?” The boy made no noise, no intake of breath. He was perfectly still. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he whispered. Nothing happened when he shook him so he tried again. “Don’t you even fucking dare. Not after everything!”

The remaining water fell to the ground so how was it that the younger boy had droplets on his face? When Percy tried to inhale he choked on the lump that grew in his throat and the tears that were streaking down his face. They landed on Nico’s forehead as he swallowed back a sob. Percy turned is head, nose buried in the other boy’s burls, lips rested against his forehead. “I can’t do this without you.” He murmured against his skin. As if Nico had heard him his lungs inhaled, the deep kind of breath that came after being underwater for too long or waking up too quickly from sleep. Percy didn’t pull back, he didn’t move. Instead he laughed, a hysterical sound that rocked through his whole body.

“Percy?” Nico’s voice was soft.

“You’re going to be okay.” He didn’t know why but his voice cracked and he cried harder, the tears came faster. Maybe because for the first time he realized it was entirely possible that they wouldn’t make it. Percy pressed a kiss and then a second against Nico’s forehead until he pulled himself together enough to sit up.

Nico didn’t move, his brown eyes gazed up at Percy’s curiously. They searched his face but he couldn’t say that the son of Hades had found there. Both of the Italian’s hands lifted and he cupped either side of the sea prince’s face. When his long thumbs moved, they brushed away the last few tears but he didn’t say anything about them.

“Don’t you fucking scare me like that again.” He whispered.

“You saved me.”

“If you use a very loose definition of the word ‘saved.’”

Nico cracked a grin like a cheshire cat, it grew wider by the second and Percy couldn’t help it— he joined in. “My hero.” For a second they stared at one another and then at the same time, with Bob and Ker looking on, they broke into hysterics and laughed until their sides split and they were a heap laying on one another. Percy buried his face in the other boy’s stomach and Nico hiccuped into his side, face in his ribs. And they laughed for far longer than they should have (or just the right amount). After all, what the hell, right? Neither had died yet.




When they had pulled themselves together enough to stand, they walked themselves to the river and waded in. As disgusting as drinking the water was, it helped and they needed it to heal and replenish them before they went any further. Percy hissed as he sunk down in the water and allowed it to cover his arm and his shoulder. He could see it now with a clarity it had lacked before. Maybe it was because he had been made of mist for a time but there was no mirage hiding what the river truly was. He’d known it was blood. He had seen it. But if he had thought it was bad before he had still been seeing it through a haze and as he sunk lower into the fiery waters and submersed himself, he saw was it truly was. When he broke the surface, he took a deep breath and found Nico’s eyes and somehow the son of Poseidon knew.

Nico had always seen the river for exactly what it was and as he lifted his hands to his lips, gaze still locked with Percy’s, Nico drank from them. Rivulets of blood dripped from his hands, slid down the sides of his mouth and stained his pale skin. Without any hesitation, the son of Hades drank again and again until he had his fill, not choking or struggling the way Percy did in gagging the awful liquid down. If his stomach was revolting with disgust, the ghost king hid it well and honestly? Percy was impressed.

Nico did whatever it took to survive.

At ten he had fled his home with his sister because monsters had found them. Then he had fled camp, the son of Hades. For a time he had been homeless with only ghosts for companions. He’d taught himself to shadow travel and use his other gifts and to fight. He had been one of the first to fight Kronos and had convinced his father personally to participate in the war. He had done all of this alone, without family. He convinced a Titan they were best friends and gave him a new life. Not to mention he had traversed the underworld looking for his sister and literally pinched Hazel out from under his father’s nose. He had travelled to Tartarus by himself searching for the doors of death. He had survived being captured, likely tortured, and being kept in the jar. And then? Then he had quite literally fallen into Tartarus a second time so Percy didn’t have to do it alone. Since then, how many times had Nico saved his butt? Percy sucked down a particularly thick (almost slightly congealed) sip and closed his eyes. The fire that blossomed in his stomach and across his skin meant he was healing. And what was pain anyway but proof they were both alive? It probably said a lot that he took comfort in the familiar burn.

“Are you okay?”

With his eyes opened once more, he nodded and stood up. “—When did you get taller than me?” The other boy blushed and looked down.

“Geras is the god of old age. He can literally suck the life out of someone.”

“So wait… are you older than me now?”

“Technically I was always older than you.” Nico pointed out less than helpfully. “I think he only managed a few years… We’re probably closer to the same age now.” Percy noticed then that the boy’s voice was a little deeper and shoulders set wider. It was harder to tell when the other had been unconscious and, well, Percy had hardly been lucid. He was pretty sure that Nico would forgive him for not being super observant at the time.

“Some days I swear I’m going to wake up in an asylum and all of this is going to be my imagination.”

“You and me both.” Nico laughed and shook his head. When he turned his gaze back to Percy, he brushed his long fingers carefully along Percy’s damaged shoulder sending a trill up his spine. Percy swallowed but his mouth felt dry. “How is it? It looks a lot better.”

“I can feel it. It tingles but I can’t move it very much.” To demonstrate he rolled his shoulder and managed to wiggle his fingers but he couldn’t make them into a proper fist.  There would be no strength there, even if he could. “It’s not my sword hand anyway.” Percy knew he was being optimistic or flippant or putting on a braver front than he felt or whatever but they were so close to the doors that neither of them could afford to stop now (no matter how exhausted or beat up or balls-to-the-wall-fucked-up they were and Percy was pretty fucked up).

The two teenagers crawled up the banking and out of the river. Bob and Ker were sat on the edge. The Titan had taken to sweeping their surroundings to rid it of their scent while the monster faced goddess watched in fascination. When he looked at the demigods and between them it was with eyes soft at the edges.

Yeah, Percy was pretty glad Nico was okay, too.

“Do you trust me?” The question came suddenly as they shoulder to shoulder.

“Of course.” Percy answered without missing a beat.

“I need you to wait here. There’s something I have to do before we get any closer to the doors. It’s important. Before you ask— I can’t tell you.”

Percy wanted to question him but the look on Nico’s face told him not to.

And for once?

He didn’t.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 48
The Fates Versus Free Will
Nico



Nico had felt jade eyes questioning him though he didn’t raise his own to meet them. For the first time ever Percy Jackson didn’t press the son of Hades to answer his questions and share whatever burden hung from his shoulders. There wasn’t time to decide if he was grateful for that, or if it had been the one time he would have preferred Percy be as stubborn and persistent as the sea. The way the corners of the other demigod’s lips twitched spoke volumes; he wanted to press forward but he was respecting Nico’s assertion that he couldn’t share.

“Bob, I need you. There’s something we have to do before we can go any further.”

The silver haired Titan nodded as if he were already aware. He then turned to Ker. If she was in the least bit curious, she didn’t show it. Instead, she regarded the son of Hades with a look he might have taken as a knowing smile if it weren’t for the fact that, well, her face was part insectoid so it really could have been anything.

“Ker, you stay here with Percy. We won’t be long.” And then, to Percy, “Try not to be too heroic while I’m going, okay?” The green eyed demigod grinned at him, even if it looked a little forced.

“Who, me? Never.”

Bob twirled his broom in his hands like he was the leader of some unseen marching band as the two walked in silence. Nico needed just a few minutes to attempt to compartmentalize and process everything. When he woke up in Percy’s arms he was entirely disoriented. Percy sobbing over him and kissing him — okay, his forehead but whatever — and the mess of limbs and laughter they had been afterwards? Talk about throwing a guy for a loop. It was just another thing to push down and forget about. There wasn’t time to try and think anything about it. Percy had been worried about losing him… about having to go on without him. It was normal. The guy was a hero. He took every person’s life entirely personally.

“Lady Styx said she had a gift to give. It’s for you?” Bob’s words pulled him from his thoughts; he nodded. “She said today is a good day. A day where oaths are kept.” Although it sounded positive, the Titan appeared unconvinced from the way that he had begun tugging on a thread from his coveralls. Honestly, the work uniform had seen much better days.  

“You okay, buddy?”

“Oaths are not small things.” He replied simply. “And to get a gift from a goddess…” he clucked his tongue against his teeth and let the sentence die there. It went without saying. The son of Hades reached over and patted the Titan on his forearm.

“I’m doing the best I can.” Before he realized he wanted to say anything, the words had slipped passed his lips. Nico’s shoulders fell when he spoke because it wasn’t just Styx but Ker as well. He was desperate and it wasn’t like the demigod didn’t know what he was doing but the weight of everything had finally caught up with him. He may as well have been Atlas struggling to shoulder the weight of the sky on his shoulders. Each step took him closer to an inevitable conclusion… and how was any demigod supposed to keep walking when they understood exactly what they were walking into? When they knew the cost?

“That is all any of us can do.” Bob’s large hand squeezed his shoulder and warmth sprung to Nico’s cheeks. It set off a chain reaction that had the teenager’s insides caving in on themselves. His fingers carded through his hair and pushed the dark strands from his face— he was pretty sure he caught sight of a few silver strands but that was hardly at the top of his list.

“This gift that she has for you… it will help?”

“I think so.”

“We are going to die.” Bob stated, his words as sure as the river that ran beside them. Nico’s heart broke in his chest because hearing it out loud somehow made it more real. It left his tongue thick in his mouth, his throat constricted and it was impossible to swallow. We. Because Bob included himself without question in that equation.

He shouldn’t ask this of him. Not after everything he had done. Not with everything they had taken away from him. Not after he had already done so much. But, from under the mop of dark curls, Nico nodded.

“Y-yeah… it looks that way, Buddy. There are monsters massing at the Doors of Death, a whole army waiting to make their way to the mortal world.”

The noise his companion made was disapproving. He wasn’t sure how to approach the rest of it but each step had Nico’s legs feeling more and more like they were made of lead. Omission was still lying and he needed to be honest with Bob.

“Ker said that the doors are chained down. We’ll need to sever the chains down here in Tartarus while my sister and our friends do the same up top. Once the elevator is freed, it will have one last trip back up. Whoever isn’t in it won’t be getting back. And…” Nico paused to take a breath and debated how to say the next thing. The child of Hades had not been surprised when Ker had relayed the information to him. “And someone needs to stay behind to distract the arm while someone else holds the button for the twelve minutes it takes to go up. ” Silence falls between them thick with so much unsaid. Nico swallowed and continued.

“Listen, Bob, there’s something I need to tell y—”

“I know.”

Nico halted in his steps and tilted his head up to catch the other’s eye. Whatever it was that Bob thought he knew it couldn’t be as big as everything he had to say. “No, Bob, really. I haven’t been entirely honest with you. And I just have to say this before we—”

“You love him.”

The suddenness of the statement had Nico’s knees weak because it was not a question. There was a confidence in the Titan’s tone that was as simple as Bob stating the sky is blue or the ocean is deep. It sent Nico’s stomach knotting and stole away his breath.

“Yes.” He whispered. For what he was going to ask of him— to give his life so that another might live? Nico owed him the truth. Because was the best and the truest friend anyone could have ever asked for. Nico loved Bob like family. “I love him.”

They were stood on the desolate landscape of Tartarus but nothing else existed in that moment but the two of them. Nico, with his dark eyes trained on Bob, waited for the other to respond. There was no reason for him to accept the statement. There was no reason for him to accept what was implied in Nico’s statement— that they should give their life to save Percy Jackson. And when had he known? Which of the stories had Nico told to the Titan that allowed him to put together the puzzle pieces of a secret that the child of Hades had kept sequestered away so deeply? Or had he dared to let anyone else know him in the way that Bob did, would they, too, have figured it out?

“He is loyal. He would sacrifice everything for his friends.”

“He would.”

“Then we will save him.” The answer was as easy as breathing.

Nico was glad for confiding in Bob but it tugged his heartstrings all the same. Not for the first time, guilt hanged around his neck for all the things he hadn’t told the Titan.

“I can’t ask that of you— not unless you know everything. I haven’t been honest with you. There’s more that you need to know before you—”

The Titan squeezed his shoulder once again and shook his head, silver hair falling across his eyes. There’s a seriousness on his face that quieted the ghost king so his friend could speak. “Bob knows, little prince.” There was no heat in the statement, but there was warmth. He even wore a sad smile as he brought their eyes to meet, even if he had to release Nico’s shoulder and tuck a finger under the demigod’s chin to force his gaze upwards. “You gave me Bob. You gave me friendship— yours and his. You gave me family and the chance to be good. No one ever believed in Iapetus the way you believe in Bob. What more could Bob wish from life?”

The teeth that had been worrying Nico’s bottom lip stopped and he cracked a small smile, his eyes damp. If there was one thing that Nico di Angelo did in his entire life it was to befriend the Titan. To dare to trust in someone, no matter how different. To share everything he had. Nico reached up and closed his hand over the Titan’s larger one. And it was all thanks to that stupid sea green eyed kelp for brains that they had each other. Despite clearing his throat a few times, his voice cracked when he spoke. “You’re my best friend, Bob.”

The smile that broke across his face was slow and Bob wrapped the other in his arms, pulling him to his chest in a rib crushing hug. Nico probably looked like the Titan’s favorite rag doll from the way his feet hung towards the ground but he laughed and returned the embrace.

“You are Bob’s, little king of ghosts.” It’s a good minute or two before the big guy is finished with the embrace and finally puts Nico back down onto the ground but the child of Hades honestly wasn’t complaining. “We shall protect him, whatever the cost,” and all Nico needed to do then as they continued their journey was to nod. His burden felt just a little bit lighter.  





They were attacked on their way but honestly it went without saying. A few empousai with their mismatched donkey and bronze legs tried to sink their fangs into Nico. They probably assumed that they would take whatever scraps the Titan beside him decided he didn’t want but they must have been pretty terrible at reading body language because they seemed genuinely shocked that Bob wasn’t interested in eating the demigod, or maiming him, or whatever else. Nico might have enjoyed killing them just a little bit more than he should have but after they attempted the whole mist magic mind meddle thing to be all seductive and beautiful on him, he really wasn’t having it. Bob knew that he loved Percy and it was sort of freeing (in a totally he wouldn’t want anyone else to know sort of way). It made the whole seduction element all that more offensive to him.

Then there had been a few telephone and a stray hellhound or two. The latter really got to him because they reminded him of Mrs O’Leary and it turned is stomach over on itself. But for the most part? Bob and he walked the rest of the way in the sort silence between two friends who have said all they need to and knew the other understood.

The acid clouds of Tartarus’ thick atmosphere glowed red caused a trick of the eye, figures appearing to dance in the steam that exploded upwards from where the river of fire mingled with its lovers’ waters. They Phlegethon and Styx mingled together briefly at this point before they strayed their opposite ways once more. Styx was not long in Tartarus, its waters only briefly skirting along the edge to tangle with her love before disappearing once more where she came from. Small Bob had chased on the Titan’s heels attacking with his bone claws but the sight of water and steam must have spooked the thing because he climbed up the other’s tree trunk legs until it disappeared in the bib pocket of his coveralls.

“She will not be far.”

“Do you mind waiting here? I think I need to do this on my own.”

Bob furrowed his brow and wrung one of the rags that he wore affixed to his belt. Small Bob protested with a high pitched mewl. Eventually, he nodded towards the son of Hades. “I shall keep watch. Make sure no monsters get too close.”

“You’re the best.” Nico flashed a nervous smile to his friend before he turned and approached the banks of Styx.

She was waiting for him when he stepped foot on the banks, no different than she had appeared in his dream. Stood on her banks, Styx looked out of place on the hells cape of Tartarus. Everything was fire, acid, tumors, the rivers acting as veins. But Styx? She smelled of damp earth and fresh rain; it was the first thing he’d smelled that reminded him of the world above. Dark hair flowed down her shoulders, braided with colourful water-weeds and shells. Her crown of water lilies was woven with reeds and cattails. Fish swam inside the folds of her dress, flowing and free like the river itself. Styx regarded him with soft eyes.

“My lady.” Nico fell to one knee and bowed his head to her, enough to be courteous but not so much that his vision was entirely compromised. He was unsure, after all, about how much she would be able to do if their meeting was interrupted by one of the inhabitants of Tartarus. Her waters mostly flowed from the Underworld and that is where he power truly laid.

“You may rise, Child of Hades.”

When he stood, the goddess reached out to him and he offered the hand she requested. Her waters washed over him, surrounding him. Fish swam around him, tadpoles played tag against his skin. Curious minnows nibbled at his fingers before fleeing when he wiggled them. The water was calming, cool as the swimming hole he had visited with his mother and Bianca when he was a child. Dark curls floated around his head, moving with the gentle current of the vortex of water. Water was not his element and yet he felt relaxed. At peace.

You have grown since we last spoke.

Geras…

No, that’s not what I meant, little one.

Her voice echoed all around him, the sound of whispers under the water. It was as much in his head as it was in his ears. He had the sense of water swirling around his chest, as if pointing there to his heart. Nico turned his head to glance down but she had become the body of water itself, that was the easiest way he could describe it, and he floated in the river that was the Styx itself but was not. There was nothing to see but the tadpoles swimming and the fish and beautiful water flowers that danced in the current of water. She was everywhere and yet he was alone. A chill crept up its spine but he was accustomed to shivering; it was not all that different a sensation as when he felt someone close to death passing from one world to the next. There was comfort in it. Familiarity.

You are here because you were never meant to be, little one.

I don’t understand. Nico thought back to the voice in his head.

The Fates weave the lives of mortals, apportioning the length of your life lines. This is unchangeable, unless the divine intervene and yet you, Nico di Angelo, disrupted the strings of fate.

But I didn’t do anything.

That’s where you are wrong. When you rescued the girl, you unwound the apportioned strings for the three of you. The Fates are tied to the Gods, and as their natures splinter, they have also been impacted. You were able to do something no one has ever done before… and it has consequences.

Her thoughts were sympathetic. Nico knew she did not blame him for doing all he could for his friends. There was fate and there was free will, and he understood. With his powers growing and the Fates weakened because of the schism in the gods and goddesses natures, he was able to overpower even their work.

I’m ready.

Nico thought it. He had no idea how the goddess could hear his thoughts… but he knew that she was somehow in his head as much as she was all around him. She would understand what he intended even if it wasn’t clairvoyance or telepathy or anything. It wasn’t clear how, but Nico could feel the swell of pride all around him at his answer. He should have been worried, should have found it impossible to breathe but he knew even before he did it that when he inhaled she would not let him drown.

What are you ready for, young prince?

Nico could feel the crosscurrents of her waters making his ringlets dance in the water. It tugged and teased at his clothes. It felt like a trill or a laugh. Like when his mother had smiled at him, waiting for him to answer a question she already knew the answer to. It warmed him, that undercurrent of pride that swelled around him. Nico’s shirt floated up around his stomach and his hands moved in gentle strokes as if to keep afloat though he knew he wouldn’t sink.

To be the hero I’ve always wished I could be.

It was the right answer. The waters fell away and the goddess reformed before him, the look on her face gentle as she regarded him once again. Much like when Percy used his gifts, the son of Hades wasn’t sopping wet. His clothes were dry and the soft babbling of a brook he took to be her laugh once he realized that she was smiling at him. Her hand reached out and caressed his cheek as she leaned down to bring her face to his (she stood twelve feet tall). “There is so much more to you than you realize, little one. More strength and love than I have seen in a child of the Underworld in an age or two.”

“The world needs him… I need him.”

Before he could answer, before he could say anything else, the goddess reached into her robes and produced a scepter. The ivory staff was nearly half his height and a brilliant white that practically glowed in Tartarus’ dim landscape. That, and it radiated power, as if it whispered something to Nico that he could hear but couldn’t quite place. It beckoned to him. Atop the scepter with their wings spread were golden eagles, and upon their backs they held a marble orb. The scepter itself was impressive but the orb drew Nico in, catching his eye. When he took hold of the staff in his hand, the dark marble of the orb pulsed a deep purple in time with the beat of his own heart. It recognized him and its power called out to his own.

“It is a powerful weapon, one with more uses than most remember. It is one capable of raising legions of the dead to fight alongside the living. But it is also a conduit, a means of focussing power.”

The orb continued to pulse and Nico’s eyes were transfixed. For a moment, he was certain that something was staring back at him from it. “And the orb… it acts as the conduit?”

Styx merely bowed her head in agreement. Nico didn’t hesitate to tug the dark marble from its resting place. The scepter itself shrunk until it fit in the palm of his hand, the orb did the same. Side by side they looked like a black marble and a match stick. The son of Hades pocketed both.

“Will it be worth it?” Nico finally raised his eyes to meet the goddess’ gaze. “Will I matter?”

“My child… it was never about trading your life for his. It was about doing everything in your power to keep him safe. But what that is worth… who can say? What is worth to you may not be worth to anyone else, and certainly not the gods.”

Nico affixed the scepter next to his sword, rested a fist across his chest and over his heart before he bowed his head to towards the goddess. She stood at her full height once more with her hands clasped in front of her almost in a prayer. “Thank you, my lady.”

“The world is not kind to heroes,” her waters whispered as she caressed his cheek, “but you have my favor Nico di Angelo. Go bravely.”

When he raised his head, the river was quiet before him and the goddess was gone, the shores dry and without sign of her presence. In his pocket, he felt once more for the gift she bestowed upon him. Nico listened to the soft burble of the river and, for a moment, felt peace (or maybe it was acceptance) at what was to come.

Nico turned and made his way back to Bob musing over Styx’s last words.

No one has ever thought of me as a hero…

No, that wasn’t entirely true. The silver haired Titan who practically glowed in the inky atmosphere that was Tartarus did and when the son of Hades returned to Bob, the other beamed at him and waved (as if Nico could miss him; he stuck out like a sore thumb).

Bob looked at him like a real hero.

Like the way everyone looked at Percy Jackson.

The son of Hades smiled and gave his friend a hug; he wouldn’t be anything less than what Bob deserved and Percy needed.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 49
It Takes Some Convincing To Break Out of Prison When It's Also Paradise (And Then We Travel to Hell)
Annabeth




It had taken a whole lot of pleading to convince Calypso to come with her, nearly as much as it had taken the daughter of Athena to ensure the nereid did not kill her. The vision haunted Annabeth and she had struggled to put into words what she had seen in a way that her hostess could understand. She couldn’t blame Calypso, of course, for not trusting her. The Annabeth/Annie thing had been a huge misunderstanding and in retrospect? She should have been upfront with her. She should have told her the truth from the very beginning so the knife to her throat and magical hair pulling that followed had probably been justified. Annabeth drew a line when the whole magical venues to tickle torture admissions from her was where she drew the line.

There were just somethings you didn’t do. Tickling was one of them.

At first, Calypso had not helped her but she also did not stop the blonde from collecting supplies around the island. She had provided a hammer or a saw when it was asked of her. With a flick of the wrist one would appear the perfect size for the daughter of Athena. The days on Ogygia were beautiful and they were long, the sun high in the sky and the hot air cut by a cool breeze. Annabeth had chopped and sawed and sanded for three days straight. By the end her hands were covered in blisters and welts that had opened and bled so frequently that the wood and ropes she used to make her raft was stained a dusty copper in places. Each night, Calypso would call her to the fire side and tend to her hands before offering her thick stews filled with plants from her gardens and eat night, Annabeth would ask again, “Come with me.”

On the forth night, the cool breeze grew into a gale. The wind howled through the branches of the trees and caused the fire to dance, a frantic and frightening display. The moon and starts were soon blocked by thick clouds and just as the demigod had opened her mouth to ask Calypso if storms were common on Ogygia, lightning tore through the sky with a massive clap of thundering so loud and long it had Annabeth jumping up from where she sat. The lightning continued, striking trees and the ocean itself once a minute. Zeus himself appeared to be warring with Poseidon and the sea responded in turn, the waves swelling and crashing despite the fact it should have been low tide.

“Something isn’t right.”

“What?” Annabeth shouted over the volume of the wind and thunder but she could barely hear herself.

“Something isn’t right. The weather on Ogygia… it never storms. Not like this.”

Calypso was stood next to her, lips practically pressed to her ear, and she still struggled to hear the nereid. The wind might as well have ripped the words from her lips and swallowed it whole. As if to demonstrate the daughter of Atlas’ point, one of the laundry lines snapped and the clothes that had been pinned to it tore free. The t-shirt Annabeth had washed ashore with flew up and away into the wind, twisting and turning until it disappeared from sight. Calypso and Annabeth ran to collect the rest of the clothing before the wind could take it on the same adventure. The rope continued to flail dangerously in the wind until Annabeth managed to jump on top of it and set a rock to hold it in place; they could affix it back into place in the morning when the storm had passed.

Lightning struck the beach, so close and so bright that she was shielding her eyes with the back of her arm. Spots swam in front of her vision. “We need to head inside. It’s not safe out here!” Annabeth shouted as loud as she could but Calypso didn’t appear to hear her as she tried to secure the dried herbs she had picked earlier in the day so they wouldn’t be ruined or stolen by the storm. Golden locks whipped in her face, and the wind tugged harder. Deep inside her gut, Annabeth knew that something was going on though she wasn’t sure what.

When lightning zigzagged across the sky once more, Annabeth spotted figures up in the sky. The wings of a pegasus that disappeared just as quickly; the horse was the color of midnight and was lost to the clouds and the dark sky but something was close by, chasing it.

Annabeth grabbed hold of Calypso’s shoulder and wide almond eyes met her own. “Have monsters ever found Ogygia before?”

“No.”

The nereid looked like she wanted to say something else but her gaze travelled up and she must have caught sight of something that changed her mind.

“Inside. Quickly!”

The two girls ran for the mouth of the cave just as the sky opened and rain began to pour. It was like a monsoon; one moment the earth was dry and the next it was flooding, waters rushing in torrents back down toward the beach. The fire sputtered and hissed; in only a few seconds it went from frantic dancing in the wind to a sodden pile of smoking ash. Inside the cave they were sheltered from the wind and the rain. Annabeth bunched the knotted massive mess of blond curls at the nape of her neck and used the spare hair band she had on her wrist to make a messy bun.

“How close is Ogygia to Ephyra?”

“It’s hard to say… the island itself is ancient magic. It doesn’t sit in just one place or another. Time doesn’t flow the same here, and distance does not mean the same thing.”

“But if you had to guess.”

“Perhaps 100km? Perhaps a thousand times that. Why?”

Before Annabeth could answer, lightning struck outside the opening of the cave and this time the ground responded in kind. The soil pitched and heaved, rolling beneath their feet leaving the demigod feeling as if she were standing on a trampoline while others around her did their best to launch themselves into the sky. From the ground erupted a woman and although she was made of earth, she was not solid, as if she had hold of the earth itself but just barely. Her eyes were closed but she didn’t appear to be asleep — not exactly— more like lightly napping.

You are not wrong, child of Athena. Something is very wrong. My minions rush forth from Tartarus pouring onto the earth.

“My friends and I will stop you.”

Your friends? Don’t be foolish. You’ll be lucky if any of them survive what waits for them. Your boyfriend isn’t doing too well, or so I have heard.

Her form rippled with laughter as she turned her attention to Calypso. Her hand reached out to brush the minor goddess’ hair from her face.

Calypso, you are as vibrant as ever. I see that the ignorant Olympians have not freed you from your eternal prison. Have you not paid three fold for the crimes they perceive you to have committed?

Calypso took a step forward and Annabeth’s stomach sank as she remembered. Calypso’s father was Atlas and she had sided with him  in attempting to usurp the Olympians. And her father had been punished with the weight of the sky on his shoulders for eternity and the caramel haired girl to a magical island destined to have heroes wash ashore only to leave her the moment her heart grew too fond of them. Like Odysseus. Like Percy. Sucking in a breath, Annabeth reached for the dagger at her side glad that Calypso had finally seen fit to return it to her.

“I don’t remember you coming to my aid. The timing is convenient, isn’t it? You show now that you’re growing an army, not because you’re genuinely concerned.”

The earth mother looked amused, or rather, as amused as a massive pile of dirt could look. Her clay colored lips turned up at the edges and though her eyes were not open, it still felt as if she was gazing through them. Annabeth felt a shiver up her spine. Outside the cave the wind howled and lightning cracked across the sky, splitting it in half. She could hear the shrieks of monsters but it was impossible to tell how far or how close they might be— the wind threw the sound back and forth. It could have come from anywhere, any distance.

The earth is slow to wake. Join me, Calypso. Be free of this island. Spill the blood of this demigod and help me to wake. I will free you and grant you any wish. Percy Jackson? Show your loyalty to me and you may have him. Love him, punish him, do both in turns. Whatever your heart desires. I only ask you prove your loyalty to me.

“And if I don’t?”

Then you will be destroyed along with Ogygia when I remake the world. If you think the Olympians are cruel with their punishments, you do not wish to know the things I could do to you.

Annabeth kept her grip on the hilt of her dagger as she slowly moved, inch by inch, behind and away from Calypso. She wanted to be out of reach just in case, but be sure the other girl didn’t notice. For a moment, the daughter of Atlas was unmoving and Annabeth was sure that her heart would hammer out of her chest. The wind was nothing compared to the pumping of her own blood echoing in her ears. “Calypso,” she whispered when she was out of arm range. “You don’t have to listen to her.”

Should she trust you? Gaea turned toward her, tossing the ground beneath her feet and causing Annabeth to fly backwards. Her hands flew out behind her to catch herself and the second they hit the ground, her wrists and her feet were covered with dirt. Buried. She was bound with earthen chains and tugging against them did nothing. Your boyfriend broke her heart. You knew she was here, knew that Percy had made a promise to help free her and did he honor it? Did the gods honor it? She and her boyfriend could have freed you… and yet they chose to do nothing.

The shrieking outside was louder. Closer. Something crashed through Calypso’s gazebo made of roots and flowers and branches. There was a howl of pain and the screech and commotion. Calypso raised her hand over her heart and with three fingers, pushed outwards in the gesture to ward off evil.

“I will not make the same mistake I made last time. Leave!”

Annabeth could feel the power like a pulse from Calypso and as it hit Gaea the earth was scattered in the wind and swept away. The hold around her wrists and her ankles dissipated and the daughter of Athena scrambled up from the floor and glanced up wide eyed at Calypso. Before she could say anything, the pot outside the cave crashed and came rolling in through the cave’s entrance, spattering stew that had long since flooded with rain water across the walls of the cave and the teen girls. She jumped out of the way and tugged Calypso with her before the cauldron could knock them over or injure them. It smacked into the back wall of the cave and stopped then.

“Something’s outside.”

With her dagger in her hand, Annabeth made her way to the cave entrance. The night was dark without the light of the full moon that normally hung over the island, or the warmth of the fire long since washed out. No, there was only the purple tinged lightning (like nothing she had ever seen before) illuminating their surroundings. A chocolate colored pegasus was sprawled at an unnatural angle, keening as its legs slowly pawed at the air. But what was it doing here? They didn’t fly by themselves, and one especially wouldn’t come this far without a demigod.

And that’s when she caught sight of armor glinting in the flickering lightning. Her black hair was plastered to her forehead, some of it was smoldering (and possibly had been singed off), as she raised her Imperial gold spear and cut down a gryphon. The thing burst into gold dust and rained down. The daughter of Belona turned to them, wild eyed and ready to strike until recognition softened her features when she saw them.

“Annabeth?”

“Reyna! You got Jason’s message?”

“I did.” She opened her mouth to say something else when the pegasus whined, a sad gurgling sound. “Scipio.” She turned her trusty steed and kneeled next to him. “My friend, you fought valiantly.” The tone was soft, something the daughter of Athena never would have associated with the praetor.

“He’s in pain.” Calypso stepped out into the rain, wind tugging at her hair. She came to kneel beside the daughter of Bellona and rest her hands on the creature’s flank. There were wounds to its sides, its wing was most certainly broken in the crash, and he was likely poisoned. Wide eyes focussed on Reyan, silently pleading with her, though Annabeth couldn’t imagine what the animal was trying to say. Was she able to understand, like Percy was?

Annabeth watched as Reyna turned to watch Calypso as she began to sing the softest and saddest lullaby. With each note, the pegasus began to relax and as the tension left his body, the daughter of Athena knew that she was chasing away his pain. In his last moments, he nuzzled his nose against Reyna’s hand. She whispered something in latin that Annabeth couldn’t make out before she pulls a golden knife from her belt and with one swift strike relieves the animal from his fatal wounds. His disappears in a shower of dust but Calypsos song hangs haunting in the air for a moment longer.

“He went in peace,” she reassured the other.

“Thank you.” Reyna said softly, her voice thick. When she went to stand up, she faltered but Calypso was quick and caught her before she hit the ground. Calypso lead  her into the cave. There, in the fire light, it’s obvious that she was also injured. “I don’t know where to start.” She says.

“How about we start with cleaning up your wounds and getting you something to eat.” Calypso offered.

“And a bath.” Annabeth piped up. “None of us are going to get off this island if we die of pneumonia.”

That was how it happened, how Annabeth convinced Calypso to join them in leaving the island. Two demigods, one Roman and one Greek, worked relentlessly to finish a raft that could set sail. Calypso assisted, bringing them water and food, weaving them new garments, and eventually a sail. Annabeth used the starts to calculate their location versus expected destination and when all was said and done, the three climbed aboard. Calypso sang softly to call forth a wind to continuously fill their sails and waved goodbye to her home. The ocean had been kind— or Poseidon and the Oceanids were distracted by their personality splits— and eventually they washed up in Epirus.

The skies overhead were black and purple, with inverted lightning (because it wasn’t bright it was dark) striking across the sky.

“You’re sure they will find us?” Reyna asked.

She had made Annabeth tell them everything that had happened since she and Jason had had the idea to leave the message for her (and since they’d sent word for her to come). Calypso had been equally interested but Annabeth wasn’t positive if that was because she wanted to know about what had lead Annabeth to the island, because she was curious about the outside world and the goings on, or just because Reyna was interested. Grey eyes hadn’t missed the way that Calypso’s dark almond ones followed the Roman praetor, then again, she supposed that female demigods hadn’t exactly been given the freedom to flourish into impressive heroes in their own right all that frequently in the past. Seeing Reyna’s dark braided hair hanging over her shoulder, standing out against red of her cape with her long lithe frame, even Annabeth had to admit she was impressive and radiated power. Totally understandable how Calypso would be taken with her. She looked like a real life wonder woman except a whole lot more formal. Annabeth was entirely not sizing herself up next to the other teenage girl (and she was entirely not thinking about how Percy with his amnesia might have found her attractive and almost maybe had a thing with her… like at all).

“They will. We just have to wait.” Annabeth reassured them both.




It hadn’t taken long.

They had nearly finished their round of lattes and hot chocolate when they had spot the Argos II coming over the horizon. It appeared a little worse for wear, Festus appeared to be turned off and his head hung a little less proud than it had before, but everyone was in one piece.

“Reyna?” Jason flew down on the back of a wind, landing before them.

Calypso’s almond eyes were wide as she took in the sight of the ship and the demigods. “Is this one Jason?” She asked, turning to the praetor. Reyna gave a brief incline of the head in affirmation before turning back to the other. She held out her hand and grasped his forearm as he grasped her own.

“It is good to see you.”

“You got my message?”

“I did. But we can talk about that later.”

“We can talk about all of this later. We need to get going to the Necromanteion. The Doors of Death are working overtime and Percy’s in trouble.”

“She had a vision,” Calypso piped up.

“And you are?” Hazel had asked gently because they might be on their way to a life or death mission but some things, like manners, were too deeply ingrained within the girl from the 30s to be entirely ignored.

“Calypso.”

Golden eyes lit up as she regarded the goddess who appeared only slightly older than her (though considerably taller). She held out her hand and when Calypso took it, she shook it daintily. “It’s nice to meet you. We’re going to need all the help where we’re doing.” Annabeth couldn’t help but think that she was implying the whole control over magic thing; it was no secret that a sorceress would wait for them below along with who-knew-what-other sorts of monsters. The child of Pluto had been working to better manipulate the mist but, if the child of Athena was being entirely honest, with relatively little success. The grey eyed girl was hardly going to turn down an extra set of hands or two.

“We need to get going. Percy is close. He needs us.”

They need us.” Hazel corrected, her golden eyes watchful. “Or have you forgotten there are two of them.”

Before Annabeth could open her mouth, Jason stepped between them and held up a hand. “I know we’re all tired and on our last nerves, but we’re so close. Once we close the doors of death, monsters will stay dead. So let’s not forget who the real enemy is here, okay?” Stormy blue eyes regarded her and then Hazel and back again. Jason’s jaw was set and though he had asked a question, it was clear there was only one correct answer.

Annabeth nodded and was thankful for his level head and commanding nature. He might choose Camp Half Blood, but there was a very defined Roman streak in him. As she fell into step beside him, she bumped him with her hip and flashed a smile in a silent thank you. He bowed his head and didn’t say a word.




They had made it deep into the Necromanteion before things inevitably went wrong. The entire thing was unstable from floor to ceiling and any time someone so much as stepped a toe briefly out of line, the daughter of Athena was convinced the whole thing would come down on their heads. Then there were the voices, the specters that called out to them. It wasn’t quite the same as the siren’s song, or maybe it was because she had been so hopelessly tempted by it, but Annabeth brushed them off. There was nothing the dead could offer her. Percy was on his way back to her and she needed to be there when he returned.

Each time the doors of death returned to the surface the entire relic shook, more cracks spiderwebbing their way across the floor and the ceiling. Bits of onyx fell, mortar crumbled, and her stomach sank. Eventually, a tunnel collapsed and they were separated. She’d almost been crushed to death by the ceiling but Jason had wrapped his arm around her middle and tugged her out of the way just in time. They’d been a mess of limbs covered in debris and dust on the floor but they’d picked themselves up and dusted themselves off.

“Thanks,” she half choked, lifting her shirt over her mouth to keep from breathing in too much dust.

“No problem. I just hope everyone else is okay.”

“Guess there’s only one way to find out.” The blonde nodded towards the passage way. There had been more than a few monsters on their way down. Six handed Earthborn, what appeared to be a mix between a rabid raccoon and a rhino that oddly coughed acidic phlegm, and even a lycanthrope. Apparently the whole silver being the only thing to harm a wolf wasn’t true because Jason’s Imperial gold sliced through its hide like a warm knife through butter after he’d sent a lightning bolt to shock the thing.

When they’d emerged from the passage was, Hazel was battling Pasiphaë alongside Leo. She glanced to Jason (the sorceress hadn’t noticed them yet as they were hidden in the shadow of the furthest most tunnel out of her line of sight); the other’s must not have made it. Her heart squeezed in her chest. They had Calypso with them— they’d be okay. The elevator door was ornate, silver and gold, and reminded her of something more akin to Hazel’s time than present day. Where it was chained, it rattled and strained against them. It didn’t want to remain in one place. The floor around it was scratched and scuffed, grooves worn deep in the belly of the Necromanteion. The thing hardly looked table and it screeched, incessant ding, ding, ding, ding as it counted up impossible numbers of floors. And next to it? Next to it was a twenty foot giant with clothes and skin made of the shadows themselves, mostly dissipating into the background except for the glaring blue of his eyes. Annabeth had no doubt that the armor he wore and the blade he clutched in his hand were of the same material as Nico’s.

Jason was about to step forward but Annabeth reached a hand out before him, stopping him in his tracks. She nodded, blonde curls bouncing, in the direction of Clytius. The son of Jupiter’s eyes widened and he gave a silent nod mouthing for them to sneak around. If they could go unnoticed by the sorceress, the giant, and their friends, they could cut free the doors of death before worrying about how they were going to deal with him.

They pressed to the circular sides of the massive room, masked in shadows. The two were silent as they slipped along outskirts, eyes keenly focussed on the sorceress and the giant. Annabeth slapped a hand over her own mouth to keep herself from crying out when the labyrinth sprung forth, rabid and racing to grow to lengths she thought long gone. Jason looked at he and the daughter of Athena just shook her head.

There’s nothing we can do for them, she said with her eyes. They’ll have to find their own way out.

They needed to trust in Hazel and Leo. The two had their own job to take care of. If Jason had a problem with it, he didn’t show it, just motioned for her to continue to follow him.

“Eight minutes!” The sorceress shouted but Annabeth wasn’t sure what she was counting down for.

Eight minutes until the labyrinth collapsed on itself? Eight minutes until they died a horrible painful death? Eight minutes until hundreds of monsters came piling out of the elevator? Eight minutes until the whole Necromanteion caved in on itself burying them alive?

The possibilities were endless and oh so cheery.

A flaming arrow whizzed passed her face, so close that she could feel the wind from it. It lodged itself in Pasiphaë’s arm and the sorceress cried out.

Frank.

There, to their left was another passage and she could see their friends charging forth. Their foreheads shone with a sheen of sweat despite the chilly air. Frank already had another arrow notched and let it fly towards the giant. It spontaneous lit in mid air before burying itself in Clytius’ flank but it looked like a matchstick against a massive pile of coal. Reyna’s cape flowed behind her as she and Calypso charged towards the sorceress.

“We’ve got a window.” Jason said. “Do you trust me?”

“I do.”

Annabeth wasn’t sure about the whole blonde superman thing until she was in Jason’s arms flying towards the Doors of Death with her dagger in hand ready to slash through the chains. It was only a few seconds but it was enough for every kid’s dream of being able to fly away to come true. She tucked and rolled as Jason let go over her and flew up and over Clytius to distract him; one very graceful somersault later and Annabeth was hacking at the chains because her blade might not be big but it was strong. The daughter of Aphrodite must have had a similar thought because her kaleidoscope eyes met Annabeth’s.

“Thought I’d chip in. Us girls have to stick together. Besides… I think they’ve got it covered.”

So Piper took one side and Annabeth the other, both working diligently to cut through the chains.

Honestly there was so much commotion that she wasn’t sure what happened but Pasiphaë was gone leaving Clytius as their sole nemesis. Black smoke pooled around him and danced across the cavern floor towards them. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She knew that she didn’t want it to touch her. That she couldn’t let it touch her. Piper on the other hand didn’t notice it and she stood to cheer having severed the chain on her side only to have the smoke creep its way up her leg. She pulled her leg back, twisted and turned, tried to kick it off, but it latched on and crawled up until it was forcing its way inside her mouth.

Pasiphaë is a fool.” He spoke with her voice and yet it was as if in reverse, as if she were inhaling with each syllable instead of breathing out. “When your friends arrive I will take them and bring them to Gaea. They will make a wonderful sacrifice. Though, I must say, I think I like this one. I can feel the magic within her.

“Annabeth— the doors! Someone needs to press the ‘up’ button!” Leo shouted towards her just as the daughter of Athena cut through the final chain.

Piper, who was no longer Piper, grinned at her and began to shuffle towards her. Clytius used her like a puppet and her movements were equally as jerky. A giant fire ball flew from Leo towards the giant but it sputtered out just as quickly.

Your flames cannot hurt me, Leo Valdez. They are not strong enough.

“And me, what about my flames?”

Piper stopped, her head canted towards the lyrical voice as a goddess stepped forth from the mist, black dress and hair golden light the sunlight. Calypso, who must have assisted Hazel with Pasiphaë grinned. “Oh, things are about to get interesting.”

The elevator cried a final ding! and Annabeth jammed her thumb against the button.

Please, please, please, let it be him.

Her blood ran cold in her veins.

Chapter Text

Tempting the Fates
Chapter 50
First Kisses and Final Breaths (In This Life or the Next)
Nico




“We are close to death.” Bob announced, broom in hand.

“Close to the Doors of Death,” Percy corrected but the silver haired Titan shrugged and held out a hand, motioning for the small group to stop.

Bob and Nico had found Ker and Percy exactly where they had left them. The goddess of violent death had been engrossed in creating bleached white swords from rib bones off a ribcage large enough Nico could stand on the backbone with his hands reaching up over his head and not touch the closest one. The swords were lethal looking, reflecting the red atmospheric disturbances as Ker twirled them around in her hands testing them out. The air whistled as the blades sliced and slashed up until she was satisfied. Whether it was because the weapons were white or some remaining magic from the behemoth of a monster they had once belonged to, they appeared to glow in the faint atmosphere of the pit.

She had handed them to Nico then as if she had never intended to keep it for herself. She didn’t appear to have any weapons on her but just because he didn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t there to be had. Besides, for all he knew, she could shoot blades from her fingers while she flew over fields of battle.

That’s a ridiculously terrifying thought.

 “You have practiced with two blades.” Ker stated rather than asked.

“Yes.” He had answered and took the additional blades. A few slashes through the air and he got the feel for them, one shorter than the other and yet the balanced one another. They felt natural in his hands and Nico thought, perhaps, he could feel the residual energy of the monster that had died and its ferocity in the blades. They thirsted for the blood in the way his Stygian blade wanted to suck the life and soul from anything it encountered.

Percy had looked at Nico like he wanted to ask where he had gone and why but he kept his word and Nico was thankful.

He wasn’t sure he could have lied to Percy and it was better to save the truth until it was absolutely necessary.

“Has Riptide returned yet?” Nico asked. That whole near-death-episode and waking up in the other demigod’s arms had thrown him for a loop. Not that he had time to feel anything (let along figure out what that meant) about it. Nope. There were more pressing things than Percy Jackson crying over him and kissing his forehead… like making sure the kelp for brains didn’t wind up any closer to death than he already was and somehow getting passed masses of monsters and safely topside. So, basically a normal Wednesday in the life of Nico di Angelo.

Percy shook his head, fishing through his pocket to return empty handed.

“No.” He didn’t need to say anything else. Nothing about Tartarus made sense, including the impact it had on magic. Riptide would return eventually

Nico nodded and motioned for Percy to take his sword. “You keep it for now. Just be careful not to cut yourself. The last thing we need is for you to get your soul banished to the Fields of Punishment.” Percy accepted the blade, removing it from where it was sheathed at Nico’s hip. Those fingers brushing against his hip bone were entirely an accident. Still, it sent a shiver through him. Brown eyes locked with green ones for a moment before they fell at his feet.

“We should probably get going,” he said, voice thicker than he would have liked.

As they had made their ways towards the Doors of Death Nico had kept both blades out. They were comforting in his hand, which was probably the same reason Percy held of the stygian blade.

Nico stood beside the silver Titan and gazed out across the landscape. He had felt it, of course, the rumbling as they got closer. The ground shuddered from the hundreds of thousands of feet, all sizes, gathering around the Doors of Death. Although they were still a way off, Nico had seen them as much as he had felt them. But that wasn’t what had frozen his limbs in place. And it wasn’t the sight of the giant heart like landscape with glowing veins traveling in all directions trembling with each beat of Tartarus’ malignant heart. No, it was the sight of more monsters than the son of Hades had ever seen gathered in one place in his whole life.

The feel of Percy’s hand resting on his shoulder pulled Nico from his thoughts.

“Has it been this way the whole time?”

When the teenager blinked, he turned to look at Percy and he could feel the other boy’s breath against his cheek from how close he stood. Nico didn’t turn away. Percy meant, of course, the landscape. He was seeing it finally in all of its entirety. Of course that was what he’d be shocked at… not the potentially thousand monsters waiting to rip them limb from limb.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Nico shrugged, dark curls falling across his eyes. He brushed them to the side and tucked them behind his ear (but they wouldn’t stay). “We needed to make it out the other side.”

And it went without saying: the son of Hades couldn’t afford for the other to lose faith. For a second, Percy looked like he wanted to say something but he closed his mouth and nodded. His grip on Nico’s shoulder tightened for a moment and warmth spread through the ice that had rooted in the boy’s insides. A blush might have crept its way up his cheeks if they hadn’t been near enough death as it was. “So what’s the plan?” The son of Poseidon finally asked.

“The doors are anchored in place with chains. They have been guarded by giants and Titans, but they work in shifts. I could not tell you which will be waiting now. Neither are known for being particularly punctual.” Ker answered. If possible, Nico thought he might be getting used to the protruding proboscis (as much as anyone could get used to an instrument meant for sucking blood from arteries popping out of someone’s face). “They will be working overtime now. The closer Gaea gets to waking, the faster they will send her forces to the surface.”

“Why are you helping us again?” Percy questioned.

“Ker loves death.” Bob answered helpfully.

Percy, who was unmoved, stared blankly between them. His brows furrowed together to meet in a line in the middle of his forehead and while he had never been the quickest to jump from points A to B eventually leading to C, Nico couldn’t help the small smile as he observed the other. Dark hair looked like it had been freshly dried after a dip in salt water, wavy and longer than normal. It had grown since they’d fallen into the pit. The curve of Percy’s jaw was beginning to darken the slightest bit— even though Nico doubted he could grow a full beard, the patchy bits of stubble were beginning to grow. The green of his eyes was also darker, bags beneath them giving away how exhaustion weighed on him, even if he didn’t show it. Exhaustion and pain. The Phlegethon had done much to help with the muscles and flesh torn away, but it did not heal it.

It will get infected if he doesn’t get to the surface soon.

The skin near it was warm, not yet tracking or signs of blood infection but it was not only useless but sapping away his strength. And then there was the blood loss…

Nico cleared his throat. “When the Doors of Death return then Thanos can take control of them once more. That’s when the natural order of death can return to order. But, really, he’s been working overtime. His remit is peaceful death. Ker is the more violent side.”

Percy’s eyes moved from Nico to the goddess and his brows settled once more in understanding.  “Ah, got it. All you can eat buffet whether we win or lose. That’s just… fantastic.”

Ker shrugged an emaciated shoulder. “Maybe I’ll start a new career after the war if your lot are successful. It seems to be working wonders for Bob.”

Nico didn’t bother arguing. Instead, he returned his gaze to the pulsating plane before them, the thick black and purple muscles of Tartarus’ heart pumping blood through glowing veins streaking out across the landscape. The sky, acidic and filled with red haze defused the closer to the center of Tartarus where the monsters gathered. Purple electrical storms crackled in the air overhead, occasionally throwing a massive bolt of lightning across the jagged terrain. A massive bolt hit down and a shriek followed; it must have injured one of the monsters from the jarring screeches that echoed through the air.

Even from where they stood he could make out the shakes of dragons against the landscape, their necks whipping back and forth in excitement, breathing fire as they saw fit. Flying demons, too small to make out from where they stood, avoided the immediate area surrounding them, probably so they didn’t wind up as deep fried crispy wings falling to any number of hungry monsters below. Nico would have been lying if he said that the sight didn’t turn his blood to ice. There were so many of them and the doors… Percy was still favoring his one side over the other. He wasn’t sure how long his ankle would hold out if he were forced with any one on one combat. Forget one to one Nico, it’s a lot more likely to be hordes on one. Swallowing he closed his eyes and pushed everything else down into that deep and dark place so when he looked at the landscape once more he saw it for what it was: a puzzle.

“Bob and I will go ahead. We’ll cause a distraction to get the focus on us. In the mean time, you head around this way,” Nico pointed. “The terrain is irregular enough that it should help to provide cover. See that massive outcrop… well, tumor really.” He pointed with a thin finger and turned to Percy waiting until he was sure the other boy spotted it. “You wait there until everyone’s honing in on Bob and me, then you make your way to the Doors. You should be able to break the chains so the doors can reset. Then we’ll just need to get inside and up it goes. Ker, I take it you’re okay to make your own way and keep a lookout overhead?”

Nico turned attention to the goddess before she could point out the obviously omission in his plan— the fact that one of them would have to hold the button in order for the elevator to go up. The goddess, who gave him a pointed look, nodded. Percy, on the other hand, interjected.

“Nico, there’s no way the two of you can take all of them.”

“Bob won’t take anyone anywhere. He will cause big mess! Yes, the biggest mess! I have cleaned up many so, I know much about messes.”

Nico clapped a hand on Bob’s arm and gave him a smile. “See, Bob’s got it covered. As for me— trust me. I’ve got a few extra tricks up my sleeves.”

“There’s four of us. We should go together.”

“Percy,” Nico turned to face him. His brown eyes did their best not to melt into green ones but he gave the smallest of smiles. “You’re injured. That arm is going to throw you off balance, and your other ankle is still too swollen. At your peak, I wouldn’t dream of asking you to sit this one out,”  Nico reached out and took hold of the other demigod’s good hand (ignoring the trill in his own stomach as he did so because it was comfort, just comfort),  “I can’t afford to be distracted and if I’m worried about getting you back to Annabeth, I’ll be distracted.” It twisted his insides to cause Percy Jackson’s face to fall like that, to watch the way his green eyes fell at his feet and his shoulders slumped accepting the assessment of the situation. Percy Jackson had been their team’s less-than-secret weapon so many times that being asked to sit this one out? It was unimaginable.

“Okay.”

Nico tucked a finger under the other teenager’s chin and bumped it back up playfully so he could catch his eyes once more. “We haven’t let each other down yet, have we?” He asked with a small smile.

“No.” Percy’s look finally warmed as he nodded and he gave Nico’s hand a squeeze in return. “I’ll give you cover from there. No reason I can’t pop a few of this creep’s veins and hose down some monsters.”

“Exactly.”




The part of Nico that was wired for battle was in overdrive, that sixth sort of sense tingled like he possessed a hundred million more receptors trying to translate each movement of his body, each sight and each sound to determine potential danger and translate that into lightning like reflexes. His heart pounded, that extra adrenaline coursed through his system and not for the first time he felt almost weightless. Nico felt like a different person heading off to battle but he could feel Bob’s nerves. Literally. At that moment he was hitching a ride by clinging to the back straps of the Titan’s coveralls. Both of his legs were bent, knees pressing in to the small of the Titan’s back to help keep himself balanced and take some of the pressure off his arms. As much as they were charging in to cause a scene, the longer it took the monsters to realize that even one of the demigods had managed to get close to the doors, the better.

“You ready to make a scene?” Nico asked.

The Titan gave a glance over his shoulder and nodded. Small Bob had taken to nesting on top of Nico’s hair and he was half sure the small smile the Titan gave him was in part at the sight. “Ready, friend.”

And with that, Nico took a deep breath and released his hold and fell the few feet to the ground impacting sooner than anticipated— the whole growth spurt thing and Geras was unsettling. But that was for another time. Small Bob stayed nestled in Nico’s hair which really killed the whole son of Hades Ghost King thing he was going for but the skeletal cat had lodged its nails into his skull. Apparently Small Bob was not yet ready to join them in making a mess. Nico reached behind him and grabbed the two bone blades Ker had fashioned and made a run towards more monsters than probably any hero— Greek or Roman— had ever seen before.

Nico sees his move then, that part of his brain hardwired for battle translating what he saw a thousand times faster than he could consciously recognize. A hellhound. The thing is easily three times the size of Mrs O’Leary and just as angry looking. The son of Hades slips into a shadow and a moment later pops out atop the thing’s back and Nico sinks one of the bone swords into the thing’s back. It wasn’t enough to kill it, but enough to royally piss it off. Holding tight to the sword, using it like an anchor to keep himself atop the demonic dog. It took off at a speed— as if running might somehow stop the aching in its shoulder as Nico dug the blade in deeper or twisted just a bit (he felt awful about that but these hellhounds would not listen). As the thing took off running, Nico wielded the other sword striking at gryphons as they flew overhead, cutting off a foot here or clipping a wing there.

“Someone grab Mr Snuffles!” One of the giants shouted. A few Earthborn took off after the thing but given its size and speed, they didn’t have much luck. Nico bailed just before the thing nearly ran head first into a dragon snail looking thing. Seriously. Ugly.

Bob wasn’t all that far away, but in the opposite direction of the Doors, had taken to spraying array and Cyclops with his cleaning spray. They clutched at their eyes and shrieked as they began to smolder. Apparently having the cleansing strength of Acheron was too much for them. Nico grinned and slipped into a shadow cast by a hundred handed one and popped out beneath one of Bob’s siblings legs. They were stood nearest the doors and clearly the guardians. One had his fiery bright thumb jammed against the up button whilst the other stood as lookout. Nico used the flat of the sword to kick out the back of Hyperion’s knee before slipping back into shadows. When he reappeared just to the right of a group of giant ant like monsters burrowing into Tartarus, it was in time to hear the one Titan roar at his brother and wind up to punch him in his fiery face. Apparently he’d mistaken the brief assault to be his brother playing a trick on him.

“I’m trying to hold the button! Do you know what could happen if I let go!? The earth mother would be furious with you.”

“I didn’t do anything!” yelled Krios. The black of his armour rippled with purple energy like a disney villain getting angry. Nico didn’t have time enough to pay attention because Small Bob had chosen that moment to join the fray. The skeletal kitten jumped from the nest he’d made in Nico’s curls and grew to a ten foot tall saber tooth skeleton and roared towards the any creatures. They let out what he could only describe as a chatter to one another as Small Bob pounced, taking down the nearest with a swipe of one massive paw turning the thing to dust. It immediately dissipated into the swirling acidic air of Tartarus, sucked back into the ether.

“Iapetus— is that you? Brother, it’s been too long! I heard that fool Percy Jackson went and threw you into Lethe. Have you come to join us?” Nico didn’t have time to listen too closely because the other Titan had called for a new group of monsters to take their places at the doors. There was shouting, swatting, and a number of fights that broke out as the monsters grappled to take their place in the elevator. Whoever decided that all monsters should collect at the same time and wait until their ticket number was called clearly, Nico thought, lacked any kind of precognition. Have they ever actually met monsters? They don’t exactly do sit-around-and-wait-patiently. It was perfect cover, though, for him to continue to dip in and out of the shadows, slash here, raise the ground and trip another there. Each time he dipped into a fraction of his powers, he could feel the marble sized sphere in his pocket warm and the son of Hades was sure that if he pulled it out, it would be pulsing with energy as if responding to him. It called out to him to use it… but not yet.

“Red Forty Seven! No— I said Red Forty Seven, not Blue Thirteen you idiot.” Shouted Krios and Nico wasn’t positive if he should feel a little underwhelmed with the fact that the monsters were so incompetent things felt just a little too easy.  “I don’t care if it’s a color. If you missed your designated departure time you’ll have to go to the back of the queue and take a new ticket.”

But just like any time in the history of the world someone realized that something felt too easy (especially when that someone was a demigod), something colossally bad happened. Nico caught sight of Percy as he slipped across the planes, keeping low. Between his dark hair, the fact he was covered in gore from the Phlegethon, and the monster hide clothing he wore, he was barely a blip on the landscape. He was nearing the Doors of Death and had Nico’s stygian blade in his hand ready to begin cutting through one of the many chains that held it in place. That was all fine except he could see three steps ahead, the angle that caused the chimera to be in Percy’s blind spot and yet nearly underneath its nose.

The lion headed creature sniffed as if it had caught a whiff of something delightful (at least from the way it shivered from its lion head down its goat like back to its serpent tail) in the air and began snuffling at the ground to track the scent. Its tail, a venomous snake, flicked its tongue into the air tasting for whateveritwas that caught its attention and from the way it coiled in on itself, Nico was positive that it had caught the sea prince’s scent and it would only be a few seconds before it was on top of Percy. Whatever which way it found him it wouldn’t matter— fire from the lion head or a whack from a massive hoofed foot or maybe a venomous bite from its snakeheadtailthing?

Nico opened is mouth to shout to the other demigod when the words were stolen from his throat. A fiery haired empousa was grinning at him from where she had latched herself onto his arm. The flames atop her head danced and crackled reminding him of the fire from camp… if it reacted to the lustful blood cravings of a vampire donkey woman.

“Don’t mind me, precious. I just wanted to have a little bite.” Her tongue dragged along the bite on his arm and she sucked in a way that turned his stomach; it was entirely vulgar. So was the way she leaned down as if revealing her cleavage and flawless pale skin of her figure would cause him to swoon. “Put your weapon down. You’ll feel much better once I’ve finished.” A finger traveled from his chest down to his bellybutton and she smirked all the while, lapping at his wound once more.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, bitch.”

The bone white blade sent her head flying from her body; the fire sputtered out as her skull rolled across the landscape. Her body fell, disintegrating to gold dust until it was nothing. The wound on his arm was still bleeding but Nico turned back towards Percy as a few things happened.

One, the Fiery Titan was thrown from where he’d stood by the elevator.

Two, the hoard of monsters had fixed their gaze where the empousa had just been largely due to the shrieks of her sisters running towards him.

Three, Small Bob dropped from where he’d been apparently riding a pterodactyl like demon and was currently fighting what Nico could only describe as a wisp of smoke.

Four, the chimera opened its massive maw ready to deep fry itself some son of Poseidon.

Nico ran, blades disappearing into their sheaths, and the teenager became a shadow once more. He moved without weight, without limitation, and without effort across Tartarus’ innards until he snapped back into existence so quickly he practically rugby tackled Percy and as he was falling forward winked them both back into the shadows. They emerged, Nico beneath Percy, a few yards away. Apparently he’d sort of lost control in the whole instantaneous winking in and out of existence thing and they’d gotten turned around. The spot they had been a split second before was smoking. As hard as his lungs tried to get oxygen, they fought against him but he convinced himself it was fatigue and being less-than-totally-into-cardio. Completely not because Percy Jackson was on top of him and he might have suffered a minor stroke.

“You need to get the Doors freed. I’ll take care of that.” Nico motioned to the chimera (which was already approaching) the second he found his voice.

Green eyes were unblinking as they stared at him. He wasn’t sure what they saw but they were as intense as high tide. With his good hand near Nico’s head, the other did a one armed pushup without ever letting go over the Stygian blade. One Percy’s feet were back under him he flashed a mischievous grin.

“I’d offer you a hand but I’m afraid I’ve only really got the one useful one at the moment and it’s a little full.”

Nico snorted and rolled his eyes as he pushed himself to his feet. “I know this is shocking, but I’m capable of standing on my own.”

Percy flashed him a wicked grin. “When’d you go and get sassy on me, di Angelo?”

And he was off.

The child of Hades spun around and took off at the chimera in a run. Apparently the lion-she-goat-snake wasn’t accustomed to having its prey turn and run straight at it screaming. For a moment, the monster skidded to a stop and cocked a head to the side as it attempted to determine if its prey was sick. Nico felt the tug in his core as he reached out to the ground beneath him and called it forward, it surged up as thick and black as tar and about as cooperative to his commands. It fought against him but still obeyed him. Just not quick enough. Not fast enough to take him out of reach of the venomous fangs of the snake head rapidly approaching him. Before Nico could so much as blink one of the pulsing veins beneath them ruptured forcing its way down the open snake mouth at such a speed that the chimera’s stomach began to bloat and the thing exploded in a shower of icy water and quickly disintegrating monster bits. As he wiped some chimera goo off his face he glanced over his shoulder at Percy who was grinning at him maniacally.

Good thing you’re fucking cute, Jackson. Was his first thought. And then his second was, I can’t believe I like that barnacle brain.

The hoard of monsters was focussing on Bob and Small Bob who were still causing complete chaos. When Bob was saying he was going to be good at causing a huge mess Nico had been skeptical. His profession since joining the Underworld was cleaning. But apparently that gave him the down and dirty (quite literally) into what makes the best mess because he’d managed to topple a drakon which was floundering on its back because its legs couldn’t reach to get back onto its feet. It had squashed a number of other monsters including his Titan brother who was absolutely livid if the way he was beginning to glow was any indication.

Wait… is he going to go supernova?

Nico dropped to the ground whilst he called out to the others before the Titan became a flaming ball of fire. It was blinding in the dark that was Tartarus. The drakon didn’t catch flame, also being a best of light and fire, but instead went flying into the atmosphere where it caught itself on its wings and somehow managed to take flight.

If the blast had been bright, the crack of inverse lightning was black-purple and sucked light from the landscape as it zigzagged across the landscape. It collided with the ground with such force that it sent ripples across the landscape like an earthquake. The crack was so loud it caused a ringing in Nico’s ears as he pushed himself back to his feet, swords at the ready and that was when he spotted it. There, in the crater that the force of the black lightning had created was a being easily four times Bob’s height. The Titan came to about the thing’s knees. Both Hyperion and Krios were steaming piles of nothing which, the son of Hades, was positive was not a coincidence considering the mist was swirling towards the abyss that was the monster’s face.

The blood in Nico’s veins ran cold.

FOOLS. HAVE THE MOST COMPETENT OF MY  BREED ALREADY TRAVELLED ABOVE? IT SEEMS INCOMPREHENSIBLE THAT DEMIGODS, NO MATTER THEIR PARENTAGE, SHOULD GET SO FAR.

 Although his knees don’t feel entirely his own, Nico swallows rests a hand over his pocket. He can feel the warmth of the orb radiating through the fabric. It called on him to use it. Not yet, he thought to it. Soon, but first, we have to get Percy to safety. He was positive he could feel the energy pulse at that as if in response. Brown eyes found Percy across the landscape, stygian blade in hand, unmoving as he stood over the last of the chains that had held the doors of Death in place.

PERCY JACKSON. YOU SHOULD BE HONORED BY MY PRESENCE. NEVER BEFORE HAS ANYONE HAD THE PLEASURE OF CALLING UPON MY PERSONAL ATTENTION. NOT EVEN YOUR SLIME FOR BRAINS FATHER OR HIS IMBECILE BROTHERS.

Tartarus’ physical form was the same thick purple and black muscle that rippled across the landscape and it was equally as pockmarked and imperfect. Red veins like lava pulsed across his tree trunk legs disappearing beneath the thick armor that he wore. Like his father’s robes, it appeared to be in motion. Monster pushed and pulled as if they might be able to escape the armor and each had something in common; they appeared to be crying out in pain. He radiated darkness. Tartarus held out his hands and moved them slowly, clearly not used to having a physical form. Each of the monsters across the plane were like comets dotting the sky, their life forces swirled like mist towards Tartarus and Nico was positive that just like Hyperion and Krios, he could do as little as think about snapping his fingers and they would be lunch.

When Tartarus made a motion towards Percy like a silent boo the teenager dropped the stygian blade and fell to his knees.

Percy Jackson was paralyzed with fear.

AND CHILD OF HADES… THAT OATH YOU MADE TO STYX WILL BE USELESS. YES, I KNOW OF YOUR DEAL. I AM EVERYWHERE. THAT TINY SCEPTER WON’T BE OF ANY USE HERE… EVEN IF YOU COULD CALL FORTH LEGIONS OF THE DEAD YOU DON’T HAVE A PRAETOR TO LEAD THEM. THIS ONE ISN’T FIT TO LEAD A SCHOOL OF FISH, LET ALONE AN ARMY.

Even before he turned Nico could feel green eyes staring him through. Bob growled and charged at the forty foot tall primordial and for a second the son of Hades forgot to breath. That’s exactly where he should have been. That’s exactly what he should have been doing. The monsters stood watching, as Tartarus smacked at the Titan but Bob was up as quickly as he fell down. The broom end popped off revealing a spear that grew three time the length and width. He threw it like a javelin and it punctured the primordial’s tree trunk leg, golden ichor spilled forth as Bob reached his hand out and called it back to him.

IAPETUS. YOU ARE EVEN MORE DISAPPOINTING THAN YOUR BROTHERS.

With a massive hand, he swatted the Titan and sent him flying. The spear in his hand snapped and Bob cried out as he fell. The spear disappeared and Bob was holding his stomach as he rolled over onto his side. Nico ran. He ran away from Percy and towards Tartarus and Bob just as Small Bob launched himself at the forty foot tall man. He hollered and Nico thought, probably, he was frustrated with how having a real body meant things actually hurt when you were stabbed. Or a skeleton saber toothed cat ran up your body and under your armor like you were a playscape at McDonalds.

Nico skidded to a stop and dropped to kneel beside Bob. He offered his hand and helped the Titan back to his feet and clasped a hand on his shoulder. “You okay, Big guy?”  When the other nodded, he turned to find Percy still frozen in place. “Percy — the chains!”

Green eyes blinked at him for a second as if unseeing. The son of Poseidon had once held the weight of the sky on his shoulders and as he attempted to force himself to his feet, he appeared to bare that weight once more. Teeth were bared and eventually he stood, stygian blade back in his hand.

AND WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?

The god of the pit raised his hand and a swarm of arai shot down from where they had been flying. The winged women rushed towards Percy. He had Nico’s stygian blade in hand but who knew who had cast those curses. If he dared to protect himself the curses would be let loose on him. Tartarus laughed, a deeply disturbing rumble, inside their heads. The first one the son of Poseidon cut down had blood pouring from his skin though their didn’t seem to be any wounds. The second had him sneezing uncontrollably (which made it incredibly difficult to use a sword with any accuracy).

“Go, help him. Too many curses and he may not make it.” The Titan said. “Say goodbye.” The smile he offered Nico did not reach his eyes. There was sadness and knowing there.

Nico flashed Bob a small smile of his own as he sheathed one of the swords and reached into his pocket. The marble sized orb immediately began to glow and grew until it fit perfectly into his palm. When he closed his eyes he focussed and felt that tug in his stomach, the one so far down that twitched as the lesser used of his abilities sprung to life. When he opened his eyes there were five other shadow Nico’s like ghost versions of himself with maniacal smiles. They raised their ghost swords and took off towards Tartarus.

“I’ll be right back, buddy.”

Although he would have liked to have shadow traveled the split second it would have taken to cover the distance between them, Nico knew he couldn’t afford it. Already he was tiring and he needed to save his energy. As he approached the arai took notice of the son of Hades so he reached behind him and drew one of his swords. When one got too close he slashed at it and immediately felt his left eye begin to twitch. How fucking lame and annoying! He grumbled to himself. The next one to collapse into dust.

It wasn’t the arai that were the biggest of his problems. From the hoards of monsters jumped a massive wolf with eyes that glowed red and shaggy brown black fur. Its whole body seemed to ripple as it growled at him and smashed a massive paw into the ground before it leaped. Nico ducked and rolled however ungracefully across the pock ridden landscape and narrowly missed being crushed to death by the rabid animal (it was practically foaming at the mouth). When he was back on his feet, the Ghost King slashed at the animal with the two bone swords but they did little more than pierce his hide; the animal snarled sending its hot sour breath in his face.

He attempted to pull the bone sword from the thing’s hide but it was stuck. By the time he pulled it out, a massive paw had raked across his face. Nico howled in rage and pain as he fell to the ground, clasping the left side of his face.

“Percy!”

It burned, like acid on his skin. But the son of Hades ran towards Percy, away from the lycanthrope as it chased after him. What they needed was to send the arai scrambling without harming any more of them— they didn’t need any more curses. And they needed to get rid of the lycanthrope before it tried to eat them both. Nico stabbed one of the pulsating veins and thick, dark blood spilled forth with a force that sent the curses shrieking. Percy, sensing the presence of water, levied the Phlegethon’s stream towards the arai. Those that weren’t quick enough to dodge the fire water caught fire and flapped around, lighting up the landscape before they eventually crashed into the ground and disintegrated into dust.

The burst vein continued to split, blood spurting across the landscape. Nico wasn’t sure if it was the other demigod’s intention but he was soaked with the red blood. Probably to replenish him once more. Percy ran towards him, stygian blade at the ready and as Nico somersaulted (he could feel the whoosh of claws slashing above his head), the thing impaled itself on the dark blade. It let out a pitiful how as it thrashed, its essence devoured by the sword.

The doors dinged open behind them.

This is it.

This was their chance and they had to take it.

WHY WON’T YOU DISSOLVE IAPETUS? Tartarus shouted, his voice rang so loud inside of Nico’s head it felt like his eyes might pop out. Although all the other monsters appeared to be comets with their essences trailing towards the physical formation of Tartarus, Bob and all his silver glory was free of any such thing.

“I am Bob, not Iapetus. I do not belong to Tartarus. I belong to me!”

“What kind of monster curses someone to bleed through their pours?” Nico grumbled but Percy was looking pale. He’d vanquished the lycanthrope but blood was seeping from the corner of his eyes. A few of the arai done more than bestow curses; the had also ripped the skin of Percy’s already damaged arm and shoulder.

“The kind that also make your left eye keep twitching.”

Nico brought his bone blade down and broke the final chain holding the elevator.

“Come on, let’s get Bob and let’s go.” Percy smiled as best at him, pushing his sweat soaked hair from his eyes. It wasn’t even a dark smile. It was relief. It was lighter than anything he’d seen since they’d entered Tartarus— how long ago? Who could even keep track.

“Percy… it’s not that easy. The elevator — someone has to stay and hold the up button. It takes twelve minutes for the elevator to reach the House of Hades. If the up button isn’t pressed for the entire time it won’t complete the journey. It’ll reset.”

“Wait, what are you talking about?”

Percy stood with green eyes fixed on him, unblinking and Nico could practically hear the gears turning in his head as the other demigod attempted to make sense of what he was saying. Of what that meant. When Percy didn’t say anything else, Nico knew that he couldn’t connect the dots on his own. When he went to open his mouth, his throat felt tight. Since when had it been difficult to swallow? Reaching out, he laid his hand on the other’s upper arm.

“Percy, I’m not coming back.”

“No... You have to go back. I can’t just leave you behind.”

“You don’t have a choice. You’re not leaving me, Percy. I’m telling you that someone has to stay to distract Tartarus and to hold the button until you make it safe back up top.”

“Then that someone is going to be me.”

And there it was, Percy Jackson and his attempts to be selfless would never cease. His eyes were hard and unyielding, willing to throw his own life away so Nico could escape. So Nico could go on and keep living. Damned be the prophecy or his girlfriend who was waiting for him on the other side of the doors. With his blood streaked body, sea swept hair (even in Tartarus), bright green eyes, one less than functional arm, and a frame that looked more emaciated since their trek in Tartarus than his previous swimmer’s build for the moment… Nico had never seen anything more beautiful than him. And he knew that as he burned all of it into his memory, that he would never love anyone the way that he loved Percy Jackson.

Like water.

Like air.

Like the very life in his veins.

Like he’d ever had a choice in the matter (he didn’t and he didn’t care).

“No, it can’t be." He said softly. "You have a prophecy to be a part of, Percy. You have a world to save and a girlfriend waiting for you.”

Percy snorted and his face contorted, brows pushing together in anger. “So what— you want to stay down here? You want to die, Nico? Is that it? Instead of fighting to get back to your sister? You always run away.” The words cut as they crashed over him like waves but just like the ocean, Nico knew better than to fight against the current. Best to swim with it. Percy wasn’t angry at Nico, not from the way his eyes glistened… there just wasn’t anywhere else to direct his anger at the fact that Nico was right. That someone had to stay. That Nico was the only choice.

That this was one thing that Percy couldn’t fix and somehow the son of Poseidon would have to live with it.

“You know that isn’t true, Percy.” Nico said with a hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “Who’s going to make sure you don’t get yourself killed? Who’s going to keep saving your ass silently from the shadows without you ever noticing?” He waited, watching the words take root in Percy, watched as his eyes grew wider and recognition blossomed. “Trust me, I would give anything to come with you. But I can’t.”

“—Nico—”

“Make sure that Hazel gets this. You’ll need it. I’m not sure when or how. Jason and Reyna will know what it is.” Nico placed the scepter in Percy’s hand. It was the length of one of his fingers but no more.

“—Nico—” Percy tried again but the child of Hades had to finish before his voice failed entirely.

“Tell Hazel… tell her and my father that I’m sorry and I love them.” There was a storm brewing behind those green eyes but Nico smiled in the sad sort of way that meant his throat felt like there was a boulder lodged inside of it (and it might never reopen) and his eyes shone with unshed tears but he blinked as quick as he could in an attempt to push it aside. The fingers of his right hand tugged on the skull ring that adorned his left pointer finger and placed it in Percy’s hand and closed his fingers over it.

“—Nico—”  

Percy looked down at it, brows knit, clearly confused and when he looked back up he knew that Percy would say something now that he was finished. There wasn’t anything left for Nico to say. So instead? Percy fucking Jackson would say something. It would be stupid or infuriating or maybe it would be both. And it would make an impossible task all the more impossible (because he had, always, been a survivor, and there was no surviving this but it hadn’t quite sunk in, not yet, and if he spoke then it would be too real) . It would break his heart and it would break his will. And what was the alternative then?

No, he couldn’t let Percy Jackson do that.

So instead, he reached up and slipped his fingers along the line of Percy’s jaw until they disappeared into his hair (it was softer than he’d ever dreamed and if he was being honest with himself, which he was because what was the point in pretending when your fate was sealed?, he had dreamed about it often) and his thumb rested against Percy’s cheek. Before Nico could change his mind, before Percy could utter a single sound, Nico leaned forward and captured the other demigod’s lips with his own. And he shouldn’t have… he shouldn’t have, he knew that he shouldn’t have, but how could he not? How could he not let himself have that one small thing? That one thing he’d always wondered and wished while pretending he didn’t. Pretending he wasn’t that way. Pretending Percy Jackson wasn’t everyfuckingthing in the world from the stars in a clear night’s sky to the feeling of a cool breeze on the back of his neck.

 Nico couldn’t help himself.

And Percy tasted like salt water taffy and that blue birthday cake he’d eaten once, the one that Sally had made and let him have three huge slices. The kiss was tongues and teeth and too much wanting, so much more than he ever should have dared divulge. It was the first kiss to end all kisses and his heart would never have sung the way it did at that moment (never ever again no matter who or what or when) and he kissed Percy Jackson until his lungs ached and when he pulled back, pupils blown wide and tears in his eyes, Nico wasn’t ashamed. Tears streaked down his cheeks but he didn’t brush them away. Nico’s thumb traced along Percy’s cheekbone. Percy’s face was flushed, his eyes wide and lips moist. Nico had never seen the son of the sea speechless before and he couldn’t help himself. He laughed. He was so beautiful his chest ached and Nico knew a piece of him would always belong to Percy.

It always had.

“Don’t forget me.”

Nico pulled back and as he did so, Percy’s hand caught his wrist but he was too slow. The Ghost King slipped out of the grasp just as quickly and pulling back, he called upon the shadows so when he thrust his hand forward a wall of darkness shot forth and wrapped itself around Percy’s middle, hurtling him back against he far elevator wall. Ker was already waiting inside. She bowed her head.

“Nico— Nico let me go! I’m not leaving you— let me fucking go!”

Like the water.

“I swear to the fucking gods Nico—”

Like the air.

“You coward — you fucking coward! I can’t do this without you— Nico!? NICO!”

Like the life in his veins. Nico took one more moment before he reached up and grabbed the gated doors and brought them down with a shriek of protesting metal. Through the slats, he gave one last look to everything he would never have before and then?

“Se tutto per me.” And then he turned away. (“You are everything to me.”)

“Bob!” Nico shouted. “It’s time to send this thing up.”

The Titan was bleeding, favoring one leg over another and his spear was in splinters somewhere on Tartarus’ floor. Across the black and purple pulsating landscape, Small Bob scampered in his kitten form once more. He slipped through the bars of the gated doors and landed on the other side at Percy’s feet.

The ghost Nico’s were still running across the landscape, stabbing Tartarus here or conjuring the earth and rocketing it at him there. But it was time for the real Ghost King to show Tartarus that he chose the wrong demigods to mess with. He broke into a run, passing Bob and giving the other a high five on the way (the brief contact their only it was nice to know you) and he knew the second the Titan jammed his finger onto the up button because the elevator began to chime as it rocketed up level after level— up and up and up and away from Tartarus. The ground rushed up to meet him making a stair case as he ran up and up and up with the scepter glowing a menacing blue black in his hands.

YOU ARE A FOOL. WHO ARE YOU, SON OF HADES, TO FACE ME? DO YOU THINK YOUR SHADES CAN HARM ME?

“No, but I know I can hurt you.”

YOU DON’T HAVE THAT KIND OF POWER. The voice laughed in his head as he continued to bat at the specter versions of himself. They got back up as quickly as they fell and it was clear as they jumped astride their own mountains, that the god of the pit could not tell which was which. NO CHILD OF OLYMPUS HAS EVER BEEN THAT POWERFUL.

“I’m not a child of the Olympians, asshole. I’m the heir to the Underworld.”

He flashed a toothy smile, not unlike his father’s (and just as dark).

And then there it was: that familiar tug. The one much further down, the one that reached out and felt for the thing that everything was made of. Ashes and dust and the building blocks of the universe. The thing even the gods were made of, especially Tartarus. There was so much of it — it spanned so wide, he could feel everything, all of it — the orb grew colder and colder in his hands, fiery ice and his fingers disappeared beneath the surface of it as if the marble itself was pliable. They anchored there and it became part of him, joined his powers and focussed them. When he opened his eyes he saw with a new clarity, body buzzing with focus and energy.

Nico glanced over his shoulder for the briefest of seconds, just long enough to see the elevator as it disappeared into the toxic clouds and he smiled.

Nico loved Percy Jackson but he could never keep him.

The tugging sensation grew and Tartarus bellowed, confusion and rage piercing through Nico’s skull with his cries. The god lifted his massive black claws to his ears and scraped at them as if he could alleviate the pressure. The pressure built so strong in Nico’s head that if it weren’t for the orb, he was sure he would have fallen to his knees and succumbed. But the orb protected him. It used the son of Hades own powers to create a wall of shadows around himself. One by one the monsters joined in with their father’s cries and they crumpled in on themselves, howling and shrieking, as one by one they crumpled to dust.

Children of Hades hold grudges the way they hold love: clenched so tight to their chests so it can never slip from their grasp. Nico closed his eyes and sent his love hurtling up towards the surface… and then he let Percy Jackson go. He felt lighter.

The orb cracked and Nico’s own screams joined the procession of dying monsters.

The orb turned to ash and the whole world tore apart.